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Nat’l identity from history, says fellow


“Our images of other people, of ourselves, reflect the history we are taught as children. This history marks us for life,” said Mario Carretero, quoting French historian Marc Ferro before an audience in Levinthal Hall on Tuesday evening.


Carretero, a professor of psychology at Autonomous University of Madrid, gave a presentation on “Historical Narratives and the Construction of National Identities” at the Stanford Humanities Center, where he is currently a research fellow.


Carretero is studying how young people develop historical consciousness and how they understand history. Instead of dissecting textbooks to analyze this concept, he conducts interviews with adolescents and observes them in real-life situations to understand the dynamics of cultural transmission and resistance.

Stanford Humanities Center research fellow Mario Carretero discussed Tuesday how adolescent education affects the formation of national identity. (LUIS AGUILAR/The Stanford Daily)


“Our childhood is not like any other period in our life. It is a critical period, and most of our historical education takes place when we are children,” Carretero said.


According to Carretero, history education encompasses more than textbooks; museums, national attractions and even television series are mediums that relay historical information to children. In fact, the history written in school textbooks is not necessarily the history that children and young adults know, Carretero said.


Carretero mentioned the difference between the histories of wars as accounted in various countries.


“It might seem obvious, but it is actually much more interesting than it first appears, because that means millions and millions of children in the world are getting different narratives for the same historical event.”


Carretero had three different classifications for history: everyday history, school history and academic history.


“Everyday history” is a collective narrative of common stories from everyday people that are not covered by “academic history,” he said. “School history” is the material covered in primary and secondary education.


“School history has a lot to do with everyday history and national identities,” Carretero explained.


In school, the nation is presented in a very static way, instead of as a changing entity, Carretero said. He found that national narrative in schools is based on a number of factors: 1) a preliminary identification process (using the word “we” in a sentence such as, “We defeated the British during the American Revolution”); 2) exclusion-inclusion logical operations (using the word “they” when talking about other nations or countries); 3) a heroic character (where the problem is when the historical characters become myth); 4) the search for freedom and territory as a main and common theme; and 5) the use of the narratives as moral cues and models.


Carretero’s research found that there is not much difference in the historical perspective of adolescents between 12 and 18, which is why an understanding of the concept of a nation is so important.


“If there is no conceptual change, our minds will not change, and there will be no progress,” Carretero concluded.


Carretero’s recent book, “Constructing Patriotism: Teaching History and Memories in Global Worlds,” discusses the ways in which historical knowledge is understood by students from ages 12 to 18. The book was published in Spanish but has been translated into English, Portuguese and French.


Carretero’s residency at Stanford will continue through February.



Contact Catherine Zaw at [email protected]

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Catherine Zaw was formerly the Managing Editor of News for Vol. 245 and Vol. 246. To contact her, please email [email protected]