top of page

History books and Ethnic Conflict

Rose Metro talks about how the process of revising history curriculum in Myanmar can be an opportunity for reconciliation, based on her research project working with Burmese migrants and refugees (2011, Cornell University’s Learning, Teaching, and Social Policy Program). ‪#‎fivelessonsfrommythesis‬

1. HISTORY TEXTBOOKS have changed over time in response to the political priorities of the authors. For instance, King Kyansittha was portrayed as a Burman imperialist in British colonial textbooks, as a unifier of ethnic groups in nationalist and Parliamentary Era textbooks, as a socialist hero by the BSPP, and as myanma patriot by the SPDC.These shifts show how various governments have used the classical past to demonstrate their own legitimacy as rulers. Each government promoted a different idea of national identity and good citizenship. History education is never politically neutral.

2. The PROCESS OF HISTORY CURRICULUM REVISION can be an opportunity for reconciliation. After conducting a series of workshops in Mae Sot and refugee camps, I identified six “stepping-stones” to reconciliation: hearing other ethnic groups’ historical narratives, realizing that multiple perspectives on history exist, “stepping into the shoes” of others, complicating master narratives about identity, exposing intra-ethnic divisions to outsiders, and forming cross-ethnic relationships. Obstacles to reconciliation include the fear of disrupting social hierarchies and making inter-ethnic tensions worse.

3. The way that international NGOs have intervened in the education of Burmese migrants and refugees can be seen as a process of NEO-COLONIAL “EDUCATIONAL MISSIONIZATION.” Concepts such as “critical thinking,” and “inclusive education” may be imported without acknowledgement that indigenous educational traditions have value and are changing from within. Local staff of international NGOs may be placed in the difficult position of translating international discourses about education into terms their communities can understand.

4. THE CONSENT PROCESSES for “human subjects” research that I was instructed to use by my university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) were not appropriate for the collaborative ethnographic research I was doing on the Thai-Burma border, because I had trouble translating Western legal concepts into Burmese, and people were uneasy about signing forms. I found it was more ethical to use an individualized, face-to-face consent process that I adapted to the situations I was working in.

5. A HISTORY CURRICULUM based on primary source documents that are juxtaposed to show multiple perspectives has the potential to delegitimize violence and promote critical thinking. As an outgrowth of my dissertation, I wrote a thematically organized, document-based curriculum, Histories of Burma, published by Mote Oo and (hopefully) soon available in a Burmese version.

bottom of page