Writing and Teaching Contentious Topics in Asian Histories
Date: 14 Dec 2011 – 15 Dec 2011
Venue: Seminar Room B, Shaw Foundation Building Level 1, AS7 Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore @ Kent Ridge
Jointly organized by the Singapore Heritage Society, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore and the Humanities and Social Studies Education, National Institute of Education, Singapore. With support from the Lee Foundation.
Recent decades have witnessed a remarkable expansion of debates over the content of history textbooks and the ways in which contentious historical issues and topics are being taught in schools. In Asia, attempts to whitewash the crimes of Imperial Japan in school textbooks were met with strong protests by civil society organizations and state politicians across the continent. No less cogent and significant were the protracted disputes in the United States over proposed revisions to the Texas social studies curriculum, which were viewed by most Americans as a bold stratagem on the part of a minority religious group to downplay the role of the country’s founding fathers and the importance of maintaining a secular society which allows for a diversity of views and beliefs.
One key issue that emerges from these and other similar polemics is that, in an increasingly digitized and globalized world, there is a need for professional historians, students of history and educators to confront rather than ignore or sidestep historical themes and topics that may be viewed as ‘controversial’ or ‘sensitive’. Young people especially need to learn how to adjudicate competing accounts and deal with the range of controversies they are likely to encounter in public life. The teaching of historical controversies can help foster active citizenry and widen our understanding of the past; it can help open up new possibilities for the creation of a knowledge-driven, cosmopolitan and mature society.
Indeed, controversy, debate, and argumentation are central to disciplinary work and participating in academic controversy involves contestation, challenge, and rigorous debate as part of progressive knowledge building and the advancement of fields of study. History writing and teaching, being one of many forms of disciplinary work, involves a continual evaluation of the strength of claims and accounts and consideration of rival as well as competing perspectives. This work is central to citizenship as well.
Bringing together students, teachers and scholars of history, History as Controversy aims to shed light on philosophical, methodological and practical questions concerning the teaching and writing of historical controversies in Asia. The conference takes on a comparative country perspective, seeking to interrogate controversial events, ideologies and personalities that defined the contours of the past and the present in countries across Asia and seeks to mark out differences and commonalities, connections as well as disjunctures between them. Another reason why comparative and global perspectives are pertinent for this workshop is to encourage the audience and presenters to view controversy as something that is addressed differently in different contexts.
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