Divided memories and reconciliation: history text books and war

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An international conference on "Divided Memories and Reconciliation: History Text Books and War" was held on September 29, at Northeast Asia History Foundation in Korea. The first part of Divided Memories Project, a three-year joint project of the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center and the Northeast Asia History Foundation, is to study and analyze how high school history text books in Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan and US describe the violent history between the 1931 Manchurian Incident to the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, as the textbooks serve as the master narrative that composes the historical memory of a nation.

Through remembering and interpreting past events and experiences, the horizon of one’s life could be expanded to the past as well as to the future.  For this reason, conflicts that arise from inconsistencies in memories tend to assume unyielding fights among public feelings.  How we remember and what we remember is crucial in the formation of the identity of both the individual and the nation who affects the trajectory of future behavior.

The Divided Memories Project, a joint project of the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center and the Northeast Asia History Foundation, is a scholarly attempt to get a sense of the potential for reconciling the discrepancies in historical memories.  This three-year project will not pursue a kind of reconciliation that seeks to provide a single, uniform assessment of historical events, but explore ways to recognize and moderate differences.  Professor Gi-Wook Shin, the principal investigator of the project, said  that “reconciliation is not a final destination but something that can be achieved in the process of working towards mutual understanding.” 

The first part of the project focuses on a comparative examination of high school history textbooks of the five countries – Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan and the U.S.- from 1931 to 1951.  A comparative study of popular films dealing with historical subjects, and a comprehensive survey of the perceptions of elite opinion-makers on these historical issues in all these five countries will be conducted in parallel with the two comparative studies.