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The visual collective memory of the Finnish Civil War: the evolution of visual narrative in the illustrations of Finnish history textbooks from 1920s to 2010s

The present study concerns the evolution of visual narrative of Finnish Civil War (1918) in school history textbooks. The war left deep traces to Finnish society and created a visual culture, which long highlighted the winners’ history only. The public school system was an important maintainer of the hegemonic memory in the post-conflict society. Over the century, the memories of the war have been communicated, negotiated, challenged and reconstructed in the textbooks.

The analysis of illustrations of textbooks (N=54) demonstrates how the visual narrative has developed in the past ninety decades. In this process, polemic representations were gradually adopted from the popular culture productions to history textbooks to co-exist along the hegemonic historical images portraying the winners’ perspective. During the decades, the hegemonic representations were challenged, changed and replaced. The visual narrative evolved from one-sided winners’ perspective to showing the similarity of two groups, and to the arousing emotions and sympathy towards the victims of the war. Since the 2000s, visual images have been used to emphasize multiperspectivity and to make the silenced memories visible.

The study discusses how hegemonic visual national narratives are constructed in post-conflict society and how these narratives may change. The longitudinal analysis of visual images in textbooks shows how the memories have evolved from one-sided to multiperspectivity. The results demonstrate how difficult history representations are constructed and negotiated in the dialogues between different social spheres: education, academic history research and popular culture.