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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Teaching Difficult Topics: The Example of the Algerian War

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While history as critical discourse differs importantly from the more subjective narratives of collective memory, even historians vary in their accounts and analyses of past events. This article argues for the need to include a spectrum of voices and text types when teaching history in the context of foreign language study, taking the example of “official stories,” collective memories, and historical accounts of the Algerian War of 1954-62. In addition to presenting varied views and text genres, the argument is made for the importance of teaching the controversies that arise around difficult topics, even many years after the fact. Teaching different sides of a difficult story and its unresolved conflicts is a form of realism that respects students’ intelligence and fosters their self-awareness as cultural subjects. Examples of a multiple perspectives approach are drawn from two textbooks published in France, with additional suggestions for classroom materials and activities at various instructional levels.

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