Significant history and historical orientation : Ugandan students narrate their historical pasts

Sammanfattning: In 2012, Uganda celebrated 50 years of independence. The postcolonial era in the country has been marked by political turmoil and civil wars. Uganda, like many other postcolonial states in Africa, cannot be described as an ethnically or culturally homogenous state. However, history education has globally been seen as a platform for constructing national identities in contemporary societies. At the same time, it is assumed that specific historical experiences of countries influence historical understanding. This study takes its starting point in the theories of historical consciousness and narrativity. A narrative could be viewed as a site where mobilization of ideas of the past to envisage the present and possible futures is made and hence the narrative expresses historical orientation. Through the concept of historical orientation historical consciousness can be explored, i.e. what history is viewed as significant and meaningful. The aim in the study is to explore in what ways students connect to their historical pasts. The study explores 219 narratives of 73 Ugandan upper secondary students. Narratives elicited through written responses to three assignments. Designed to capture different approaches to history: either to start from the beginning and narrate history prospectively or to depart from the present narrating retrospectively. The colonial experience of Uganda affected the sampling in the way that students were chosen from two different regions, Central and Northern Uganda. The comparison was a way to handle the concept of ‘nation’ as a presupposed category. Narrative analysis has been used as a method to explore what the students regarded as historically significant and what patterns among the narratives that point towards particular historical orientations. The empirical results show how different approaches to history, a prospective or a retrospective approach, influence the student narratives. For instance, valued judgments on past developments were more common with the retrospective approach. The results also show differences in evaluating past developments according to regional origin. Students from northern Uganda were generally more inclined to tell a story of decline. Also, it is argued that the student narratives were informed by a meta-narrative of Africa. It was as common to identify oneself as African as it was to identify as Ugandan.