Working Paper Series No. 15: The Normalization of Political Violence in History Textbooks: Ten Narrative Keys”

Greetings to all of our colleagues in the Historical Justice and Memory Network!
We are happy to present the Spring 2019 Issue of our series of unpublished papers on issues of historical dialogue, historical and transitional justice, and public and social memory.
 This season’s working paper is brought to us by Angela Bermudez, who is contributing the article, The Normalization of Political Violence in History Textbooks: Ten Narrative Keys.”  We encourage you to add your own comments and questions. Thanks for reading!

We are currently taking submissions for the 2019-2020 Working Paper Series. If you are interested in publishing a paper in our series, please email co-editors Tim Wyman-McCarthy and Sigrun Schaumburg-Müller at


This paper synthesizes the findings of an international study on the role of history education in fostering or hindering a critical understanding of political violence. The study conducted thematic and discursive analyses of history textbook narratives in Colombia, Spain, and the United States. Analysis focused on how textbook narratives represented the violence intrinsic to nine different episodes of the violent past of these societies. The findings of the study revealed a persistent pattern: despite the abundant references to violent events, violence as such is rarely discussed or made the object of explicit analysis. Quite the contrary, violence is normalized through discursive processes that define what is emphasized and what is marginalized, what is connected and disconnected, and what is silenced. The author identifies ten narrative features that describe interlocking mechanisms by which historical accounts manage to describe violent events and processes while precluding any reflection about its roots, causes, consequences and alternatives. These features are conceptualized as ten narrative keys that normalize violence. The author draws on Galtung’s concept of cultural violence to discuss the role of these narrative keys in making violence acceptable. The paper concludes with the proposition that a critical examination of how school history normalizes violence can also shed light on how to revert this process, opening opportunities for critical reflection about the violent past that helps to de-normalize violence.


Angela Bermudez is a researcher at the Center for Applied Ethics in the University of Deusto (Bilbao, Spain). She investigates how history education in different countries fosters or hinders a critical understanding of political violence. She holds a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Prior to it, she worked in Colombia where she conducted research and developed curriculum guidelines and teaching resources for history and civic education.


Working Paper

Download here!