Contrasting Notions of History and Collective Memory in Tunisia

As part of its research efforts accompanying the process of transitional justice in Tunisia, the Transitional Justice Barometer Project, a partnership involving Kawakibi Democracy Transition Center, the Centre for Applied Human Rights at the the University of York and Impunity Watch, is publishing its third study entitled: Contrasting notions of history and collective memory in Tunisia. The teaching of recent history and the figure of Bourguiba today. 

This study aims to analyse the experience and perception of teachers of history and civic education in the regions of Gafsa and Sousse, concerning recent historical facts, how their teaching has evolved, as well as evaluating more broadly the impact of history education on the memory and training of students.

Using a series of semi-structured interviews, the study permits an understanding of how teachers themselves assess the current content of history textbooks, the amendments that have been made to them, and their views on the methodology of teaching, particularly about the figure of the ex-President of the Republic, Habib Bourguiba, the principle - and most controversial – figure in Tunisia’s recent history. Informed by a detailed analysis of the main textbooks, the study brings together recommendations and suggestions for teachers to improve the teaching of recent history and to make it compatible with recent historical memory in Tunisia, after the January 14th revolution. In the light of these discussions, the complex web of history and memory, and the tensions between them are analysed.

History textbooks appear, through the prism of this reading, as having a fundamental social and political role, and therefore being subject to significant contestation.