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The study of history is one in which people or communities attempt to understand the nature of humans through the study of events in the past. When we look at historiography or the writings of history, we are looking at the study of historical events that have been seen as relevant and meaningful by historians. So when we study this area of knowledge, we need to think about what affects the way we interpret it, and therefore by association, how it is taught to us. There are various components to the learning and teaching of history and perhaps the two most prominent components are language and reason; two ways of knowing.
Language is fundamentally a systematic means of communicating by the use of sounds or conventional symbols. This is in itself linked to reason, which is a rational motive for a belief or action. Indeed language is a powerful tool that can communicate beliefs and facts but also manipulate such facts. Language has an effect on our emotions, our perception and what we believe in and can lead to history being manipulated over generations. Therefore, it is justifiable to say that this affects our reasoning. Therefore, I will be looking at how these ways of knowing affect the way in which a complex topic is taught: the Second World War (WW2) and some of its events.
I will be addressing knowledge issues, which are questions that relate to our understanding of the world and us, combined with our desire for knowledge. I will look at how the holocaust is possibly taught in a German school, as well as how the Kamikaze attacks are taught in a Japanese school. I will also look at the way these events have been taught to me, as someone who attends a British school. The knowledge issues that will form the basis of my essay are: how do languages affect our opinion of a historical event, what role does our reasoning have in understanding historical events and whether we can study history without reason and language. I will be arguing that language and reason do have definitive roles in history.
If we are to look at how WW2 may be taught in Germany, we have to perhaps look at Germany’s stance on the event now. Indeed a survey in Sarah Ann Gordon’s Book Hitler, Germans and ‘The Jewish Question’, showed the sentiments of the German people in the years after WW21. This can be seen below: Statement Percentage of people who agree Hitler was right in his treatment of the Jews. 0% Hitler went too far in his treatment of the Jews, but something had to be done to keep them in bounds.
The actions against the Jews were in no way justified. 77% Indeed, judging by the above results, it is possible that the majority of Germans abhor the Holocaust. The way in which they do so however, is very much linked into their language. Germany would most likely not want a repeat of the events of WW2 and so the way in which it is taught is one in which the actions of the Nazi party is abhorred, perhaps even more so than in the schools of other countries. Indeed if you look at the response of German historians and their analysis of WW2, many have been damning of events such as the holocaust. This can be seen with Hans-Ulrich Wehler, who in a 2006 interview expressed his support for the imprisonment of the British historian, David Irving, for Holocaust denial2.