CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1Is merely looking at the curriculum enough to grasp the reality of what is taught in classrooms across France today? Is simply opening a history textbook sufficient to provoke satisfaction or, on the contrary, outrage at unspoken meanings, hackneyed refrains, or supposedly partisan positions? The question is particularly relevant to the recurring debates on the teaching of history in France, whose terms, more often rehashed than renewed, express a prickly, sensitive relationship between society, history, and teaching. These debates all assume that there is an immediate transitivity between what is prescribed, what is transmitted, and what is assimilated—as if education were a process of perfusion. This position, however, neglects the complex, chaotic pathways taken by all forms of knowledge between the moment of its production and that of its appropriation. It leads to a focus not only on curricula but also on school textbooks, the objects that mediate between the classroom and the outside world. The teaching of history thus becomes indistinguishable from the formal, immediately graspable “content” in both types of educational material. Their readers will attempt to ferret out omissions or particular modes of presentation, assuming their effects to be immediate and often harmful.

2The perennial recurrence and, on occasion, the violence of the public debate consistently sparked by the publication of new curricula, or each rumor of possible revisions to existing ones, cannot be explained solely by the adage that history is a “French passion.” [1] Rather, such debate is indicative of the instability of a domain torn between conflicting objectives and practices. The combination of two incendiary subjects—education and history—has opened up a space of controversy centered upon history teaching, involving thorny political issues and attaining, at times, a rare degree of violence. [2]

3It is thus useful to reexamine the history taught in schools not only as a category but also from the broader perspective of its “formatting for educational purposes,” [3] suggesting that the transmission of history within the school environment delimits a specific discourse about the past that cannot be reduced to an educational content rigidified by prescriptions or set out in textbooks. My aim, therefore, is to outline a space for thinking about history teaching in schools that is distinct from its ostensibly direct subordination to both historical science and social and political pressures.

The Educational Formatting of History

4The teaching of history and its “disciplinarization,” that is, its “transformation into an educational discipline with an identity strongly characterized by clearly defined content, specialist teachers, and a specific administrative and pedagogical organization,” [4] have already been objects of considerable study over the long and the short term. [5]

5André Chervel is one of the pioneering researchers in the history of educational disciplines. In his study of grammar, he shows that since the nineteenth century the term “discipline” has been intrinsically linked with the notion of intellectual “gymnastics.” In other words, an educational discipline is first of all a taught subject capable of serving as an intellectual exercise. It is unquestionably grounded in content, but this content is geared to methods and rules specific to the classroom. In this sense, educational disciplines form relatively autonomous entities produced by and within schools. According to Chervel, their relationship with the corresponding “reference” or scholarly discipline is quite distant, and the educational knowledge taught in schools is not simply the fruit of a “filtering down” of scholarly knowledge into the classroom, as the traditional representation would have it. What is produced is a “teachable” content that encodes the discipline, distinguishing it from others and autonomizing it from the scholarly field in a complementary, interdependent way that cannot be reduced to either imitation or simplification. [6] Annie Bruter’s work on the particular case of history has shown how the progressive disciplinarization of the subject in schools from the seventeenth century on led to the creation of a “pedagogical paradigm,” a set of contents and methods articulated around educational goals that were predominantly religious rather than scholarly. [7]

6Nevertheless, history is also an academic discipline, and the last third of the nineteenth century saw a considerable narrowing of the gap between the world of the university and that of schools. Ernest Lavisse, who held the chair of Modern History at the Sorbonne from 1888, wrote textbooks for every level, which were used to educate not only schoolchildren but also university students and teachers. He was also an advisor to various ministers of education, and identified himself as an “educator” concerned with bridging the political, academic, and educational domains. [8] He presented a teaching method to his students in a June 1884 lecture on pedagogy entitled “A Discussion of a History Lesson,” setting out the processes to be followed and advocating the “primacy of speech,” a position that he justified with didactic arguments. [9] Since then, the link between academic history and school history has consistently been maintained while also being called into question. The creation of institutes dedicated to pedagogical research, resources, training, and experimentation from the late nineteenth century on demonstrates the preoccupation with maintaining a close relationship between the world of academic research and schools. [10] In the 1970s, for instance, the work of the National Institute for Pedagogical Research and Documentation (Institut national de la recherche et de la documentation pédagogiques, INRDP) led to the rewriting of the history curriculum for primary as well as secondary schools. This shift was influenced by both pedagogical research and the historiographical movement to open the discipline up to the social sciences that was being led by the Annales.

7The porosity between these two worlds is such that one might legitimately wonder whether the autonomization of history teaching, as described by Chervel, is a reality. It is, however, possible to advance the hypothesis that history is “formatted” in a particular way for schools. Teaching content and methods are set out and linked together in curricula and directives aimed at ensuring the homogenization and coherence of history teaching at the national level. Within this very specific framework, content relating to a particular subject area is not merely an isolated element that also has an academic counterpart; it comes laden with pedagogical intentions, not only as a topic but also by virtue of the place that it occupies in the final construction.

8Today, this overall structure still has a threefold aim, at once intellectual, identitarian, and civic. Certain emblematic moments charged with great civic significance, such as the French Revolution, occupy a central place in the school calendar; they must be taught neither too soon nor too late, thus allowing for a dramatic buildup and enabling them to be addressed in their allotted time. The upshot of such social uses of school history is that, in pursuit of these aims, taught history comes to function as a deforming mirror of scholarly history. This largely equates with the “intellectual gymnastics” referred to by Chervel, which in addition to providing an introduction to historical reasoning was also supposed to impart the ability to mobilize historical knowledge within the development of nascent notions of citizenship.

9However, the three aims mentioned above have in fact served to destabilize rather than regulate the history taught in schools, so often have the guiding principles been shifted and redefined. For instance, the identitarian goal is apparent at several levels, not all of which have the same signification or the same function. It may take the form of the nation (the history of France) or the memories of specific groups (the history of the slave trade, colonial history, the history of the Shoah), thus switching from a logic based on the construction of a common good to one based on a politics of recognition. [11] It can likewise incorporate otherness as either a question of exogeneity (the study of extra-European civilizations) or one of contact (the study of migration), thus playing upon the distance from, or closeness to, the Other. The same goes for the civic dimension, which insists on the seeds of subversion and rebelliousness (revolutions, resistance) while still conveying the idea of adherence to political models (notably the republican model) presented as unsurpassable. Lastly, the critical vocation of history teaching is also enmeshed in a contradictory imperative: it aims to develop an intellectual posture of autonomy in pupils who are nevertheless required to imitatively regurgitate knowledge by the school system and its evaluation procedures. It would certainly be possible to describe all these missions assigned to history teaching as “political,” since they are part of the French Republic’s broader program of citizenship education. Given how far their objectives diverge, however, it would be unwise to seek a degree of partisan coherence among them.

10Looking beyond these objectives, Michel Develay has shown that each taught subject is distinguishable by its principle of intelligibility, that is, by the mold that forms the essence of the discipline, which he refers to as its “disciplinary matrix.” [12] This principle helps explain why certain types of knowledge that are inconsistent with the codes of particular disciplines fail to find a place in teaching content, or do so only with difficulty. In history, an ideal or typical explanatory model is thus more likely to form part of the prescribed curriculum than an object involving multiple temporal, social, spatial, or even gendered points of view. This kind of model, which lends itself to lecture-style presentation, seems to offer a general—and hence simpler—explanation, and is easier to evaluate in a purely regurgitative manner. It is thus clear from the outset that the adequation between the scholarly discipline and the educational discipline is far from evident, and we are unlikely to grasp the workings and mechanisms of history teaching unless we go beyond a linear reading of what is prescribed.

The Making of History Curricula

11A history curriculum is more than a mere inventory of historical knowledge, listed in the order in which it is taught and tailored to suit the dominant ideology of the day. [13] One of the first scholars to study the mechanism by which school curricula are written was the sociologist Émile Durkheim, who showed that these curricula are the outcome of political, religious, and ideological struggles as well as the product of social contexts. [14] The “making of educational knowledge” can therefore also be examined from the perspective of educational sociology, via the sociological study of knowledge production in schools. [15] This has proved a particularly fruitful field in the English-speaking world, where the sociology of curricula has been analyzed since the 1970s. [16] In France, the early work of the pioneering researcher Viviane Isambert-Jamati posed the essential yet extremely complex question of the articulation between the social sphere and curriculum reform:


It is easy to state generally that the school system is both the reflection of society and the means of consolidating its existing order. But it is a much more arduous task to go beyond the approximate correspondences and reveal the processes involved … the sought-for relationship never exists in a pure state.[17]

13The sociology of the curriculum, then, seeks to identify not just these “processes” but also the nature of the porosity between social demands, the rewriting of curricula, and the way they influence society in return. It postulates that a curriculum is the end result of a series of stages involving multiple actors and that the final version is the outcome of decisions concerning, in particular, the educational value of certain content. By examining the social identity of the actors involved, the arguments put forward, and the mediating factors between the different positions, this sociology makes it possible not only to trace the connection between a particular curriculum and contemporary social debate but also to look behind the scenes of decision-making processes which may or may not lead to change.

14It is also closely related to a certain sociology of the state. First because, as Pierre Bourdieu observed, “Legitimate culture is the culture guaranteed by the state, guaranteed by this institution that guarantees the qualifications of culture, that delivers diplomas that guarantee a possession of a guaranteed culture.” [18] It is also a sociology that endeavors to measure the institutional power relations between the different decision-makers. Finally, some authors go so far as to envisage a school curriculum as a tool of public policy, since it has the force of law. [19]

15The decision-making processes that have evolved within the French Department of Education are now so complex that curriculum design, or even the mere introduction of modifications, is as much a matter of administrative arrangements, timetabling, and budgetary contingencies as of pedagogical and political intentions. To date there have been very few studies of history curricula, with the exception of a recent PhD dissertation by Patricia Legris that retraces the steps in the “writing process” of secondary-school history curricula since 1945. Her work underlines the inflation in the number of actors and organizations involved in drawing up a curriculum (the corps of inspectors general, one or multiple ministries, dedicated committees, trade unions, etc.), and describes a process so circuitous that it is difficult to chart. Such analyses are useful for understanding why particular elements of historical knowledge are added to—or removed from—school curricula, or why others are permanently present. They are indispensable for any attempt to interpret curricula, especially in terms of their relationship to ideology. The drawing up of the 2008 curricula for French primary and middle schools provides an instructive example in this respect.

16The decision to modify the primary-school curriculum was taken in the wake of a presidential election marked by firm pronouncements on schools and a strong emphasis on the need, restated by the eventually victorious candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, to reinforce national identity. At present, the archives are silent on the select committee entrusted with the task of rewriting the curriculum, and hence on its members, the guidelines imposed on it, the deadlines for completion, and the consultations conducted. In the specific case of history, the results speak for themselves. All the innovations introduced into the primary-school curriculum of 2002 by the historian Philippe Joutard were swept away in favor of a reassertion of national history, traditional chronology, and the part played by great emblematic figures in the national narrative. [20] One can thus assume a significant degree of political intervention in the rewriting of the curriculum, the revision of which was presented, as early as 2007, as a priority for the president.

17Conversely, the timetable for the drafting of the new middle-school curriculum was less closely linked to the political calendar. The decision to rewrite it was made in 2006, and a committee was set up, comprising inspectors general, academics, regional teaching inspectors, and middle-school teachers. Frequent meetings were held and regular updates were circulated and discussed in correspondence between the members of the group and officials within the Department of Education (the Direction générale de l’enseignement scolaire, DGESCO). A number of figures from civil society and the worlds of higher education and publishing were heard by the commission, not all of whom necessarily shared the same positions. [21] The final version of the curriculum was drawn up after numerous arbitrations, and was then put out to consultation, amended, and ultimately promulgated in August 2008. Its drafting had taken two years. The outcome can be seen as the result of various compromises, endeavoring to strike a balance between multiple and sometimes contradictory demands. Attuned to developments in historiography, the new curriculum represented an attempt to reconcile the specificity of the discipline with the policy of “core knowledge and skills.” [22] Certain rarely studied—though not entirely new [23]—themes reappeared, such as the study of medieval African kingdoms (in seventh grade) or Han China and Gupta India (in sixth grade). Certain reformulations demonstrated a desire to integrate recent developments in historiographical discourse (the addition of “colonies” envisioned as the geographical space of colonial contact in eighth grade, for instance, or the history of “immigrations” in ninth grade). Others sought to make the debates surrounding commemoration more intelligible (for instance by introducing the study of the triangular trade in eighth grade).

18In both form and content, the new curriculum marks a break with its predecessors. It is no longer presented as a succession of relatively continuous periods and themes correlated within a cycle, but instead addresses topics from a chronological-thematic perspective and adopts a three-pronged approach combining knowledge, methods, and expected skills. This new script in itself represents an important rupture with the past. It reflects the professionalization of curricula that incorporate an official pedagogy (teaching methods) and “evaluable” components (skills) rather than simply a list of topics set out in sequential order. The new presentation, which prescribes both content and method, gives the curriculum a “pedagogized” form that is not necessarily comprehensible to the public. In short, revisions to curricula can develop and address particular issues in very different ways, even over the space of a few years or under successive governments of the same political persuasion.

19From there, it also becomes possible to see the production of history within schools as a succession of translations, in the sense developed by Bruno Latour and Michel Callon. [24] In this respect, Françoise Lantheaume’s PhD dissertation on the teaching of Algeria’s colonial history in French schools is the first study to propose a long-term analysis of educational content, covering almost a century and examining the evolving treatment of the conflict in curricula and textbooks. [25] Her work calls upon translation sociology and demonstrates, in particular, that the way school textbooks are written explains why they have become relatively inaccessible tools for uninitiated readers more used to the classical narrative of earlier schoolbooks. The textbook is in no way a curriculum; it is an initial translation by actors (publishers, teachers, inspectors, academics) embedded in a network, enrolled in an undertaking, and motivated by processes combining financial, didactic, and career-development considerations. [26] At all events, the textbook employs didactic strategies that, once again, cannot be reduced to mere partisan positioning. It is a hybrid object, and can better be described as a bank of resources, exercises, and mainly iconographic data, in which the narrative element is pared down to a bare minimum. [27] Moreover, while content sometimes varies depending on the publisher and the author, one common feature is evident: the visions expressed are all fairly consensual and avoid the polemics that might arise from definitively stated positions. The history textbook, then, is subject to various constraints and exposed to social and economic pressures. It has very little in common with the sort of book that is read in a linear fashion, and this is why it is difficult to get a school textbook—an object that is more manipulated than manipulative—“to say what it thinks.”

Debates and Controversies

20Based on an analysis of school textbooks, numerous publications claim to have uncovered a vast propaganda operation aimed at French schoolchildren and orchestrated through educational curricula. Some authors suspect the Department of Education of wishing to infuse an anti-American, anti-globalization discourse, [28] while others, using the same sources, detect a form of neoliberal indoctrination serving the dominant global and social order. [29] Without really looking at the specific material in the textbooks, let alone the subsequent uses of the knowledge presented in them, these critics have offered opposite interpretations of the same books in validation of their initial hypotheses. This rhetoric of suspicion and denunciation underlies most of the debates on the teaching of history, which tend to develop into “overblown polemics.” [30] The books spawned by this controversy take full advantage of a media and publishing market prone to emphasizing criticism and dysfunction, and at times lapse into tedious lists of the untruths and tendentious statements uncovered in textbooks. [31]

21All these books, and the debates sparked by them, touch on fundamental political questions that go far beyond purely educational issues. The first (and by no means the least) of these has to do with the forging of a shared national culture, one of the reasons why the history of France gives rise to such heated polemics. As early as 1979, Alain Decaux protested against the implementation of so-called “early learning” curricula in primary schools. [32] Voicing the concerns of the Association of History and Geography Teachers, he published a front-page article in Le Figaro Magazine denouncing the demise of a national history capable of evoking empathy and pride in pupils, a history marked by great figures, punctuated by significant events, and propelled by a dynamic of progress. [33]

22Since the publication of the 2008 middle-school curriculum, controversy over the introduction of the history of extra-European civilizations, in particular the medieval African kingdoms, has heightened. Some critics regard this initiative as a sign of the downgrading of French history, offering an impoverished vision of a country compromised by its participation in the slave trade, colonialism, torture in Algeria, and so on. [34]

23The start of each new school year since 2010 has seen the reenactment of the “crisis” in history teaching, relayed by the media. [35] Each time, a flurry of accusations is leveled at an institution suspected of bending over backwards to satisfy social demands, of rendering the nation’s past unintelligible, or even of fostering modern “identity anxiety.” A space of indignation and lamentation is thus constructed, fed by reports based on vox pops, interviews with families, and forums enabling actors from outside the classroom (or even the education sector) to voice their views.

24In these debates, questions about the place of French history are compounded by the recurrent problem of chronology. As the argument spills over into the public realm, it takes form as a politically divisive object, pitting those who consider chronology the only tool capable of ordering our knowledge of the past against the denigrators of an overly linear, teleological conception of taught history, which they would gladly replace with a thematic approach.

25In the professional domain, various justifications of an epistemological and historiographical order are put forward, setting those who wish to protect taught history from the overly complex renewals of the academic discipline against advocates of a closer articulation between academic research and the classroom, who argue that thematic cross-sections are more stimulating and innovative. As a result of media coverage of these debates, the argument has become highly politicized. One side presents chronology as the vessel of a traditional narrative in which events are linked by a smooth causality to form an overarching event-centered account; the other claims that the fracturing of chronology makes space for different kinds of periodization, whose narration would necessarily be more discontinuous. The debate is subsequently transformed into a political battleground, with the opposing positions portrayed as either conservative or progressive. The arguments become intertwined with “common sense” and fuel more general criticisms of a dysfunctional school system: How can children be expected to understand the past if events are not arranged in order? How can children be expected to like history if they do not understand it? And so the debate on chronology enters the public sphere. From this point on, the controversy is almost a caricature of itself, reduced to a stark binary opposition that drowns out the multiple nuances of the subject.

26These questions have all become very sensitive, not only because they concern the challenges represented by the school system’s missions, but also because they raise particularly delicate issues—the emphasis that curricula or textbooks place on the nation, the way they present past actors (as heroes or anonymous individuals), or how they “order” history (chronology versus a thematic approach) have become ideological markers capable of feeding suspicions about a form of state-orchestrated propaganda. None of these debates are new. In the early twentieth century, Marc Bloch and Jules Isaac were already discussing the emphasis placed on the teaching of national history at the expense of the study of civilizations and the relative roles of chronology and the thematic approach (which Bloch called “sampling”). [36] What has undoubtedly changed since the 1980s, however, is the publicity given to these questions, which has served to politicize them further.

27In this sea of confusion and contradictions, two aspects have been occulted: the reality of the black box that is the classroom and what is at stake in it, and, above all, the mysterious raw material of history as it is taught in schools. In other words, these controversies reveal the inaudible nature of the technicalities of history as an educational discipline. This also explains why these controversies regularly reappear, and why they are reenacted in practically the same terms. There is, however, a much broader issue at stake here: the denigration of academic research on these educational or didactic questions in favor of a vision of the school system which, as Anne-Marie Chartier so aptly put it, “recognizes botany but not gardening.” [37]

28Recourse to this vast body of research would show that history as it is taught in schools can be examined as an autonomous category. As a construction, no history curriculum conforms to the canons of the academic discipline. Drawing up a curriculum involves a series of stages and arbitrations, and as a result it is never completely overhauled or rewritten. The changes introduced amount to additions, rewrites, and successive layers. The history taught in schools is linked to both the academic discipline and to society’s demands, but the nature of these links needs to be questioned and refined. This observation does not obviate the need to criticize the history taught in schools, nor indeed the pertinence of such criticism, but it does disqualify the gratuitous polemics that instrumentalize history. It calls for the terms of the debate to be set out differently, so that they coincide more closely with the realities of the profession. Above all, it calls for an adaptation of teacher training, which should aim from an early stage to familiarize teachers with the raw material they will be dealing with in the exercise of their profession, and to do this without sacrificing knowledge of the academic discipline itself. The question of the content and aims of teaching can only be fully addressed through the continuing articulation of academic space with public and educational space at both the diachronic and the synchronic levels. The history and epistemology of educational disciplines have an important part to play not only in research but also in the initial training programs and ongoing professional education of teachers.


  • [*]
    This article was translated from the French by Rodney Coward and edited by Chloe Morgan and Stephen Sawyer.
  • [1]
    Philippe Joutard, “L’histoire, une passion française,” in Histoire de la France, ed. André Burguière and Jacques Revel, vol. 4, Choix culturels et mémoire, ed. André Burguière (Paris: Seuil, 2000), 302–94.
  • [2]
    In 2012, Laurent Wirth, the inspector general who chaired the committee on the new middle-school curricula, was subjected to threats and insults of an anti-Semitic nature.
  • [3]
    Pierre Arnaud, “Contribution à une histoire des disciplines d’enseignement. La mise en forme scolaire de l’éducation physique,” Revue française de pédagogie 89 (1989): 29–34.
  • [4]
    Christian Hamon and Joël Lebeaume, “De la technologie industrielle aux sciences de l’ingénieur en France de 1945 à 2013 : contribution à l’étude du processus de disciplinarisation,” Éducation et didactique 7, no. 2 (2013): 47–67; the definition quoted here is from p. 47.
  • [5]
    Patrick Garcia and Jean Leduc, L’enseignement de l’histoire en France (Paris: Armand Colin, 2003); Évelyne Héry, Un siècle de leçons d’histoire. L’histoire enseignée au lycée, 1870–1970 (Rennes: Pur, 1999).
  • [6]
    André Chervel, “L’histoire des disciplines scolaires. Réflexions sur un domaine de recherche,” Histoire de l’éducation 38 (1988): 59–119.
  • [7]
    Annie Bruter, L’histoire enseignée au Grand Siècle. Naissance d’une pédagogie (Paris: Belin, 1997).
  • [8]
    Patrick Garcia and François Pernot, eds., Lavisse : Le roman national comme patrimoine scolaire ?, acts of a one-day workshop organized at the Château de La Roche-Guyon, November 15, 2014 (Paris: Éd. de l’Amandier, forthcoming).
  • [9]
    Annie Bruter, “Lavisse et la pédagogie de l’histoire. Enseignement de la représentation et représentation de l’enseignement,” Histoire de l’éducation 65 (1995): 27–50.
  • [10]
    This relationship has remained present throughout the evolution of the late nineteenth-century Pedagogical Museum into the National Pedagogical Institute (Institut pédagogique national, IPN), which was later to become, successively: the INRDP, the INRP (following the creation of the National Pedagogical Documentation Center or Centre national de documentation pédagogique) and, since 2008, the French Educational Institute (Institut français d’éducation, IFE).
  • [11]
    Axel Honneth, La lutte pour la reconnaissance (Paris: Gallimard, 2013).
  • [12]
    Michel Develay, De l’apprentissage à l’enseignement. Pour une épistémologie scolaire (Paris: Esf éditeur, 1992).
  • [13]
    Laurence De Cock and Emmanuelle Picard, eds., La fabrique scolaire de l’histoire. Illusions et désillusions du roman national (Marseille: Agone, 2009).
  • [14]
    Émile Durkheim, L’évolution pédagogique en France (Paris: F. Alcan, 1938).
  • [15]
    Isabelle Harlé, La fabrique des savoirs scolaires (Paris: La Dispute, 2010).
  • [16]
    For a selection of texts that have particularly influenced French thinking on this matter, see Jean-Claude Forquin, ed. and trans., Les sociologues de l’éducation américains et britanniques. Présentation et choix de textes (Paris/Brussels: INRP/De Boeck University, 1997). See also Jérôme Deauviau and Jean-Pierre Terrail, eds., Les sociologues, l’école et la transmission des savoirs (Paris: La Dispute, 2007). French authors will often borrow the English term “curriculum” because of the broad scope that it offers for discussing not only programs of study (the formal curriculum) but also the resources and practices mobilized in classrooms (the real curriculum) and the potential invisible effects of these two aspects (the hidden curriculum). The present article deals only with the formal curriculum, the equivalent of the French programme scolaire.
  • [17]
    Viviane Isambert-Jamati, Les savoirs scolaires. Enjeux sociaux des contenus d’enseignement et de leurs réformes (Paris: Éd. Universitaires, 1990), 41.
  • [18]
    Pierre Bourdieu, On the State: Lectures at the Collège de France 1989–1992, trans. David Fernbach (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014), 98.
  • [19]
    Pierre Clément, “Réformer les programmes pour changer l’école ? Une sociologie historique du champ du pouvoir scolaire” (PhD diss., University of Picardie Jules-Verne, 2013).
  • [20]
    Laurence De Cock, ed., “Faire de l’histoire-géographie-éducation civique à l’école primaire, quelques pistes de réflexion,” special dossier, Aggiornamento hist-geo, 2011,
  • [21]
    The archives of the DGESCO relating to the revision of the curricula for all school subjects since 1990, comprising fifty-eight items (reference code 20120058), were recently deposited in the French National Archives.
  • [22]
    The “core knowledge and skills” policy was promulgated in 2006. It consists of a set of skills that all pupils should have mastered by the end of compulsory education. Designed according to a cross-disciplinary logic structured by “pillars,” it is, at least theoretically, meant to serve as a normative framework for the different subjects taught.
  • [23]
    The introduction of extra-European civilizations as study topics was presented as a veritable innovation by both the designers of the curriculum and their detractors. In fact, these civilizations had already featured on the high-school curriculum in the 1960s and the middle-school curriculum in the late 1970s.
  • [24]
    Michel Callon, “Éléments pour une sociologie de la traduction. La domestication des coquilles Saint-Jacques dans la baie de Saint-Brieuc,” L’année sociologique 36 (1986): 169–208.
  • [25]
    Françoise Lantheaume, “L’enseignement de l’histoire de la colonisation et de la décolonisation de l’Algérie depuis les années trente : État-nation, identité nationale, critique et valeurs. Essai de sociologie du curriculum” (PhD diss., Ehess, 1992).
  • [26]
    Lantheaume, “Solidité et instabilité du curriculum d’histoire en France. Accumulation de ressources et allongement des réseaux,” Éducation et sociétés 12, no. 2 (2003): 125–42.
  • [27]
    Alain Choppin, “Le manuel scolaire, une fausse évidence historique,” Histoire de l’éducation 117, no. 1 (2008): 7–56.
  • [28]
    Ève Bonnivard and Barbara Lefebvre, Élèves sous influence (Paris: L. Audibert, 2005).
  • [29]
    Odile Dauphin, Rémy Janneau, and Nicole Perrin, eds., L’enseignement de l’histoire-géographie de l’école élémentaire au lycée : vecteur de propagande ou fondement de l’esprit critique ? (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2009).
  • [30]
    Yves Gingras, ed., Controverses. Accords et désaccords en sciences humaines et sociales (Paris: Cnrs Éditions, 2014).
  • [31]
    Vincent Badré, L’histoire fabriquée ? Ce qu’on ne vous a pas dit à l’école (Monaco: Éd. du Rocher, 2011).
  • [32]
    1969 saw the introduction of “early learning” activities in primary schools. Driven by active pedagogy, they grouped together all subjects except mathematics and French, thus breaking down the separation between them.
  • [33]
    Vincent Chambarlhac, “Les prémisses d’une restauration ? L’histoire enseignée saisie par le politique,” Histoire@Politique. Politique, culture, société 16, no. 1 (2012),
  • [34]
    In particular Dimitri Casali and Jean Sévillia, whose books sell in the tens of thousands.
  • [35]
    Michel Dobry, Sociologie des crises politiques. La dynamique des mobilisations multi-sectorielles, rev. ed. (Paris: Presses de la Fnsp, 2009).
  • [36]
    “Assemblée extraordinaire du 3 avril 1938,” Bulletin de la société d’histoire moderne 9, no. 4 (1938): 1–2.
  • [37]
    Anne-Marie Chartier, “Les disciplines scolaires : entre classification des sciences et hiérarchie des savoirs,” Hermès 6, no. 2 (2013): 73–77.

This paper argues that a discipline taught in schools is more than a mere copy of scientific knowledge. It investigates the relationship between scholarly and pedagogic knowledge from the end of the nineteenth century, when the teaching of history was tasked with participating in the construction of a shared national culture. In fact, it is only by mobilizing tools from the social sciences that the complexity of history teaching can be understood. The repeated accusations directed at the teaching of history in schools therefore reflect a trite and hackneyed understanding of its nature and mission.

Uploaded on on 09/02/2017
Distribution électronique pour Editions de l’E.H.E.S.S. © Editions de l’E.H.E.S.S.. Tous droits réservés pour tous pays. Il est interdit, sauf accord préalable et écrit de l’éditeur, de reproduire (notamment par photocopie) partiellement ou totalement le présent article, de le stocker dans une banque de données ou de le communiquer au public sous quelque forme et de quelque manière que ce soit.
Loading... Please wait