Bibliographic data

Bahr, Frank: Anno 11/12, Geschichte Gymnasium Sachsen. Braunschweig: Westermann Verlag, 2008, 426–427.

European and National Identity by Anna, Siede (2018)

This piece of text appears in the fourth and final learning module to feature in the textbook, “Forms of historical culture and identity formation”, which is on the curriculum for the advanced history course in Year 12. The book’s authors, who had previously worked on a number of other history books in the Anno and Horizonte series from publishers Westermann, are Frank Bahr, Adalbert Banzhaf and Leonhard Rumpf.

The document is an extract from Hartmut Kaelble’s 1 essay entitled “European and National Identity after the Second World War” (1999), and is the last source to be presented in the textbook’s subsection on “European Identity”. Its purpose here is to reinforce student awareness of the differences between “European identity” and the development processes and characteristics behind national identities, which the students should have studied at the beginning of this overarching module. In this vein, Kaelble’s essay describes “European identity” as divergent from national identity; this notwithstanding, Kaelble goes on to state that the two types of identity are not mutually exclusive, but can co-exist alongside one another (p. 427). In the passage of his essay reprinted in the textbook, Kaelble variously uses the terms “European identity (identities)” and “European self-image”without going into detail on any differences between the two. The author primarily discusses what he refers to as the “modern European self-image”, which in his view did not emerge until after the twentieth-century wars within Europe, that is, not until the second half of the century. The essay provides a separate discussion of the “European identities” which formed in the medieval period (p. 427). The “modern European self-image”, in Kaelble’s view, is founded principally on shared aims and values such as “democratisation, the upholding of peace within societies and the assumption of international responsibility, economic prosperity and social security”; and, unlike national identity as expressed in various nationalisms, is not tied to symbols with strong emotional connotations.2

The subsection and the sources it draws upon go into great detail on the characteristics of “European identity”; it is left to the sources alone, however, to expose students to the diversity of views on what exactly constitutes a “European identity”. The authors of the textbook cite common historical roots and shared values as being among the foundational elements of this identity. Further, they place some emphasis on the drawing of boundaries to other cultures and its effect in providing stimulus for unity and identification within a society; Kaelble likewise raises this issue in his essay. It is in this context that the authors discuss the drawing of boundaries to Islam, claiming that historical perceptions of Islam as a threat continue to be prevalent in the present day. The textbook barely considers whether this image of Islam indeed continues to dominate, although the academic discourse on the subject has pointed out that both Islamic states and Europe have benefited from intercultural dialogue (Eberstadt/Kuznetsov 2008).

The authors do not discuss these issues in direct relation to the process of European integration; the curriculum stipulates that the teaching of “European integration” and “European identity” is to take place in different learning modules. The textbook suggests that the pre-existence of a “European identity” was a precondition for European integration taking place at all (p. 423), yet fails to consider whether this identity was at least partially a political construct to the end of persuading the European population to support the “European project” (i.e. the EU).3 In this respect, the authors deviate from the curriculum, which explicitly calls for students to “assess the nature of European identity as being located between being a construct and existing in reality”. Overall, the textbook deals with the topic in accordance with the stipulations of the curriculum; that said, it almost entirely fails to engage with the issue of European identity as a construct, although this is an idea with great currency in academic discourse today (Schmale 2008; Eberstadt/Kuznetsov 2008; Habermas 2004; Schobert/Jäger 2004; review of Kaelble 2002).

The tasks for students given at the end of the chapter do not aim at encouraging them to question the idea of “European identity”, but rather at asking them to define this identity using the compilation of sources given in the book. Here, “European identity” is presented not as a “vision” partially realised, yet primarily still to be attained; instead, it appears as a reality already achieved. The authors use the extensive citation from Kaelble’s essay to support their argument. More recent work, however, considers it important for students to be given the opportunity to develop their own ideas on Europe, and takes the view that the role of schools in developing a “European” awareness of history in students is to enable them to think in terms of problems and their solutions.4

The textbook is in part a response to the crisis in the EU which arose from the failure of the European Constitution and the debate around the Lisbon Treaty. It is also an attempt to answer the call issued in 1990 by the German Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder for teaching to transmit more emphatic identification with Europe. Textbooks in use today evidence the response of textbook publishers and editorial teams to this edict; they have begun to include presentations of potential European identities as they have previously appeared in academic discourse.5


  • Eberstadt, Meike; Kuznetsov, Christin: Bildung und Identität. Möglichkeiten und Grenzen eines schulischen Beitrags zur europäischen Identitätsentwicklung (Grundfragen der Pädagogik, 11), Frankfurt/M., Lang, 2008.
  • Elvert, Jürgen; Nielsen-Sikora, Jürgen (ed.): Leitbild Europa. Europabilder und ihre Wirkungen in der Neuzeit (Historische Mitteilungen – Beihefte, 74), Stuttgart, Steiner, 2009.
  • Habermas, Jürgen: Der gespaltene Westen, Frankfurt/M., Suhrkamp, 2004.
  • Langner, Carsta: Vereintes Europa. Zur diskursiven Konstruktion einer europäischen Identität und ihrer Reproduktion in Schulbüchern, Stuttgart, Ibidem-Verlag, 2009.
  • Kaelble, Hartmut: Europäische und nationale Identität nach dem II. Weltkrieg, in: Kieseritzky, Wolther von/Sick, Klaus-Peter (eds.): Demokratie in Deutschland. Chancen und Gefährdungen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Munich, Beck, 1999, pp. 394-419.
  • Kaelble, Hartmut; Kirsch, Martin ; Schmidt-Gernig, Alexander (eds.): Transnationale Öffentlichkeiten und Identitäten im 20. Jahrhundert, Frankfurt a.M., New York, Campus-Verlag, 2002 [reviewed by Klaus Große Kracht in: H-Soz-u-Kult, 2002].
  • Nieke, Wolfgang: Bildung für Europa – zwischen geopolitischem Wirtschaftsblock und abendländischer Wertegemeinschaft, in: Joas, Hans; Jäger, Friedrich (eds.): Europa im Spiegel der Kulturwissenschaften (Denkart Europa. Schriften zur europäischen Politik, Wirtschaft und Kultur, 7), Baden-Baden, Nomos, 2008, pp. 226-244.
  • Nielsen-Sikora, Jürgen: „Europa der Bürger“ – Leitbild der Europäischen Union, in: Elvert/Nielsen-Sikora (2009), pp. 256-280.
  • Schmale, Wolfgang: Geschichte Europas, Stuttgart, Vienna, Böhlau, 2001.
  • Schmale, Wolfgang: Geschichte und Zukunft der Europäischen Identität, Stuttgart, Kohlhammer, 2008.
  • Schobert, Alfred; Jäger, Siegfried (eds.): Mythos Identität. Fiktion mit Folgen, Münster, Unrast-Verlag, 2004.
  • Quenzel, Gudrun, Konstruktionen von Europa. Die europäische Identität und die Kulturpolitik der Europäischen Union, Bielefeld, Transcript-Verlag, 2003.

[1] Hartmut Kaelble (born 1940), Emeritus Professor of Social History, Humboldt-Universität Berlin; visiting fellowships and research stays at Harvard University, St. Antony’s College Oxford, an der Erasmus University Rotterdam, Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, and at the Sorbonne in Paris; numerous publications on European history.

[2] Carsta Langner (2009), in her quantitative analysis of political and social discourses in this arena, reaches other conclusions, in relation both to the issue of emotional connection to Europe and to the related or comparable “dimensions” (public, historical, political, cultural) and “driving forces” (inclusion, exclusion) of constructions of European and national identity respectively.

[3] “European identity”, or identification with Europe, is viewed as the basis upon which the European Union has founded its legitimation and as a precondition for European integration; see Nieke (2008). On the political exploitation of ideas of Europe and the character of “Europe” as a construct, see Schmale (2001); Quenzel (2003); Elvert/Nielsen-Sikora (2009).

[4] In this view, while it must be left to each individual to form his or her own (European) identity, education can act as a support in this process: “In this sense, schools should provide young people with the opportunity to experience Europe as a construct which they and others can shape and change, rather than presenting it in an idealised fashion as a flawless, sacrosanct and above all constant entity”. Cf. Eberstadt/Kuznetsov (2008), p. 67.

[5] The following textbooks are examples: Bernlochner, L. (ed.), Geschichte und Geschehen II (Oberstufe, Ausgabe A. 2nd ed., Stuttgart: Klett 1997, p. 523; Bender, D. u.a. (ed.), Geschichte und Geschehen: Neuzeit (1789-2005), 1st ed., Leipzig: Klett 2005, p. 454; both these volumes have been approved for use in German federal states including Saxony. Cf. the basic outline of the book, designed for schools in Bavaria, edited by Bender, D. et al., Geschichte und Geschehen, Oberstufe Bayern, 1st ed., Stuttgart/Leipzig: Klett 2010. There are general remarks on this issue in Langner (2009).


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