Skip to content

Deborah L. Michaels

Deborah L. Michaels is Associate Professor of Education at Grinnell College in Iowa, where she teaches courses in Comparative and International Education, History of Education, and Social Studies Teacher Education. Dr Michaels earned her PhD at the University of Michigan and her undergraduate degree at Cornell University. She studied and worked for thirteen years in Europe, primarily in Germany, Spain, and the Czech and Slovak Republics. She continues to conduct research in Central and Eastern Europe on school segregation and Romani students, Holocaust Education, and national identity in history textbooks. In the US, Dr Michaels is developing a web-based collection of history lessons that foreground Native American perspectives and, thus, challenge the standard textbook narrative. Her most recent publications, including a book co-edited with Doyle E. Stevick and published by Routledge in 2016, elucidate how schools teach the Holocaust in post-socialist Europe. Dr Michaels has received numerous grants and fellowships including a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Academy of Education/ Spencer Foundation (2014), a US State Department Speaker Grant to Budapest, Hungary (2006), a Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship (2006-2007), and a Fulbright Fellowship (2004-2005). In 2017, she received two Innovation Fund grants from her institution in support of her current projects, Racing Iowa and Meskwaki College Access, which focus on racial in/exclusion in US higher education.

A Comparison of Nationalist Narratives in Slovak History Textbooks (1910-1995) and Political Rhetoric (2014-2017)

In early 2016, the results of the Slovak national elections evidenced a move toward right-wing populism, mirroring ethno-nationalistic trends in other Visegrad nations, France, Britain, and the US. The radical nationalist People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS) gained representation in Parliament for the first time, winning fourteen seats, while the Slovak National Party (SNS) won fifteen. This paper compares the rhetoric of populist politicians in Slovakia today to nationalist narratives observed in an analysis of over 300 Slovak-language history textbooks published between 1910-1995 for use in secondary-school classrooms. Grounded in narrative theory and comparative historical analysis, this study concludes that populist politicians in Slovakia today are drawing on at least three nationalist themes echoed in history textbooks from decades past: (1) primordial narratives of ethno-national belonging rooted in origin myths, progenitorial claims to the land, and the glorification of an imagined, bygone Golden Age of the Slovak state; (2) cultural narratives equating Slovak belonging with Christianity, while positing Muslims and Jews as moral enemies of the nation; and (3) fearful depictions of Hungarians and Germans as dominating neighbours and national infiltrators who threaten Slovakia’s independence. These three themes of rhetorical continuity contrast with a noteworthy change between ethno-nationalist narratives in history textbooks in the 20th-century and populist rhetoric in Slovakia today. While the former sources made concerted claims to Slovakia’s centrality in the geographical and imagined space of European civilization, now populist politicians are distancing themselves from that same supranational entity. Meanwhile, references to the primordial narratives in today’s Slovak political rhetoric embrace an outward-looking performativity that is non-isolationist, as they function to legitimize the Slovak nation vis a vis other nations. Yet, these primordial references also serve to mobilize the nation internally, providing a story of origin, legitimacy, and vocation around which identifying Slovak ethnic nationals are meant to rally.