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Lost in translation – how English and German textbooks differ over Europe

Posted on 2 April 2019

The way Europe is depicted in some English textbooks for secondary schools could be helping to fuel negative attitudes towards the continent, a study has suggested.

The study analysed interviews from 2000 young people

The researchers analysed the treatment of the European Union in a sample of textbooks available either in Germany and England.

The authors of the study suggest the textbooks largely reflect the prevailing political climate in each country, but not necessarily that of young people’s views. The study also analysed student interviews from 2000 young people across 29 countries.

Positive attachments

The researchers found that while young people from both countries express similarly positive attachments to Europe, the textbooks from Germany deal with Europe in much greater detail and with much greater positive support than those published for teachers and students in England.

With Parliament and the country seemingly divided over Brexit, the authors of the report say the findings are particularly relevant.

Professor Ian Davies, from the University of York’s Department of Education said: “The most contentious issue of the 21st century in England – the European Union – is presented by educators as a mirrored reflection of the existing national narrative.

“We would argue that the way youngsters are taught about Europe in England is helping to fuel negative connotations about the continent.”

The researchers looked at four English textbooks and nine in German and compared the way Europe was covered.

Integrated approach

For example, in an English textbook Europe was seen almost exclusively in political terms with strong emphasis on the EU being a controversial issue.

In a German version there is a very different approach with Europe seen more expansively and positively with an integrated approach to politics and identity.

The German textbooks had references to ‘our historical, cultural and intellectual home’; a ‘community of values’; and, a place where ‘enemies became friends’.

Professor Beatrice Szczepek Reed from King’s College London, added: “When we pay little attention to young people’s views, we may be witnessing a process in which we are socialising pupils to fit into existing official, overarching norms rather than educating them.”

Further information:

"Constructing Europe and the European Union via Education Contrasts and Congruence within and between Germany and England" - Journal of Educational Media, Memory and Society 2, 2019, pp. 1-29.
Eleanor Brown, Beatrice Szczepek Reed, Alistair Ross, Ian Davies and Géraldine Bengsch.

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About this research

The research, by academics from the University of York, King’s College London and London Metropolitan University, is published in the Journal of Educational Media, Memory and Society.

Explore our research here.