History plays a special role in the school curriculum, providing an important tool for the process of shaping individual and collective identity. Since history as taught in school is connected with and influenced by the correlation of forces in society, it is susceptible to change. The transformation of history teaching in the former USSR serves as a case-study for how the perception of history alters when ideology falls apart, the state collapses, and society tries to change its priorities.

This problem is at the core of our research project, which was launched in October 1997 with the support of the Israeli Science Foundation. One of the outstanding products has been the publication of Ben Eklof, Larry E. Holmes and Vera Kaplan (eds), Educational Reform in Post-Soviet Russia: Legacies and Prospects (Frank Cass/Routlege, 2005). This project has been investigating the teaching of history in secondary schools in post-Soviet Russia. It focuses on the emergence of new historical narratives in the classroom from the onset of perestroika until today and inquires into the institutional and professional changes that made innovations in historical education in Russia possible. In the hope of contributing to a better understanding of the perception of history by contemporary Russian society, our research team is looking into the complex interrelation between the evolving perception of history as such, and the teaching of history in the classroom.

The radical changes which Russia has undergone -- key among them being the disintegration of the USSR and the collapse of the monopoly of power in the hands of the Communist Party -- contributed immensely to the reconceptualization of history in that country. The essentially monolithic, Marxist master-narrative disintegrated. The Communist Party with its message of universal proletarian emancipation could no longer figure as an unquestionably progressive historical force. Russia, a nation among nations with its own specific historical destiny, had to be given a history. For the first time in over seventy years, diverse historical narratives could coexist and interact, vying for dominance in the public discourse. The new situation raised important questions: How do schools respond to the new notion of history? What sort of a historical narrative is being presently offered to Russian pupils - is it the revamped Marxist, the nationalist, or the liberal historical narrative that appears to be hegemonic today? And which factors exert the greatest influence on its formation?

In order to obtain an overall view of the changes in history teaching during the post-Soviet period, we organized, in close cooperation with the Herzen State Pedagogical University, an international conference, which took place in St. Petersburg in October 1997 and was devoted to the topic “The Teaching of History in Contemporary Russia: Trends and Perspectives”. The conference brought together more than forty historians and educators from Russia, Israel, Ukraine, the US and Germany. The panels focused on the issues of history textbooks, the evolving role of the history teacher (with special attention to preparation in pedagogical universities and institutes) and the teaching of history as a school subject in the context of overall educational policy. The conference’s results are presented in the volume The Teaching of History in Contemporary Russia, published by the Cummings Center in 1999.

An international workshop Unravelling the Threads of Time: The Teaching of History in Contemporary Russia, which took place in December 1999 at Tel Aviv University and was generously supported by the Israel Science Foundation, became the next step in implementing the research project. The aim of the workshop was to examine the general subject of history education in contemporary Russia from different perspectives: from the angle of educational reform, as a subject of policy; from that of its correlation to the development of modern Russian historiography; and from the point of view of its connection to the issues of collective memory and recreating the past. In light of the importance generally attached to the social role of history teaching, significant attention was devoted to the role of the history teacher, his/her training and retraining. The comparative approach provided additional tools for examining the issue of history teaching in Russia. Israeli educators and scholars presented their research alongside experts on Russian educational system from Russia, the US, Great Britain and Germany.

The intensive discussion which took place throughout the workshop facilitated in the search for a common denominator for various approaches, which all revolve around re-shaping identity in a changing society. In addition to results of the research studies, personal experience regarding textbook writing and promotion of innovative educational projects were shared and discussed in the framework of the workshop sessions. The workshop enabled a productive dialogue, which delved into the controversial subjects of stereotyping, myths and ideological distortion in the teaching of history.

The main researchers are Dr. Vera Kaplan and Dr. Pinchas Agmon