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Context matters in history textbook studies: A call to address the socio-political landscape of textbook production


Penney Clark, Kristina Llewellyn, Rafael Capó García, & Sarah Clifford


History textbooks are a tool of nation-building and often the only account of particular events, people and issues to which students will be exposed. This is one reason why it is important to examine, not only their content, but the context of their production. Research attention needs to be directed not only at disentangling the logics of textbook content, a purpose that dominates the field, but also at the social and political contexts of their development, including their production (publishing and authorship) and the processes by which they receive official approval. This work analyzed 100 history textbook studies in order to identify current trends in textbook research. This article focuses on one of the four major findings of the study: textbook studies often focus on the content of the textbook in isolation from the socio-political landscape of textbook production. The socio-political landscape refers, but is not limited to, the influence of local and geopolitics; the influence of the state, evident primarily in the official approval processes employed by governments; the economic dimension and publication parameters; and authorship factors. Among the relatively few studies that address the socio-political landscape, the authors often employ a historiographical or comparative perspective. The historiographical perspective, which is dominant, offers an analysis of textbooks over time in order to reveal both continuities and changes in the historical narratives produced by their authors. One example is a study by Yeow Tong Chia (2013), who examines conceptions of ‘Chineseness’ and China in Ontario high school history curricula and textbooks in the post Second World War to the 1980s period. More broadly, the paper locates the Ontario textbooks in the international context of the western-centric perspectives that were prevalent following the Second World War. The comparative perspective analyzes textbooks across regions in one historical moment. For example, Jason Nicholls (2006) addresses the role of national contexts in determining how the Second World War is portrayed in textbooks found in the United States, Italy, Sweden, Japan, and England.


History textbook studies, Textbook production, Socio-political context of textbooks, Historiographical approach, Comparative approach

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How to Cite

Clark, P., Llewellyn, K., Capó García, R., Clifford, S. (2024). Context matters in history textbook studies: A call to address the socio-political landscape of textbook production. Historical Encounters, 11(1), 136-150.


  • Issue Published 10 January 2024

  • Double Blind Peer Reviewed

  • Author Retains Copyright

  • Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0​ License

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