Kristin Fossum, Tor Arne Myhrvold, Ellen Ugland
A huge amount can be learned by contemporary historians about a country's character and culture by looking at the educational material produced by top publishers and authors. Some societies, like Norway, provide challenging and uncensored views of their history, warts and all. Others, like Japan (which curiously has more in common with Norway than eating whale meat) severely censor what is available to students and present a quite distorted picture of their recent past.
From this point of view, the Studiebok med kilder gives a great insight into the heart of another nation's culture for a foreigner. It is a type of Rorschach ink blot test, explaining what it it the older generation wishes the younger generation to be aware of in forming their idea of their national identity.
It is clear that in Norway no holds are barred. The contents page shows that Norwegian students are required to have a grasp of world affairs, imperialism in Latin America, Australia and Oceania, and Asia. They are expected to study Russia and the Soviet Union, United States capitalism, fascism and nazism, Europe after 1945, decolonisation in Africa, and to know something of Japan, China, Vietnam, India, the Middle East and to have some sort of global perspective.
The material on Japan would be relatively accessible to the Norwegian mind, with its attention to collective capitalism, high technological standards, and to the way in which the Japanese have a collective psyche which makes them consider themselves neither European or American in their economic, social and political development. Conversely, no Japanese students would be so well equipped to face the 21st century as a Norwegian. The Japanese in their history books proscribe all mention of Japanese relations with the outside world before the mid 1950s, except to describe in unflattering terms the way in which America forced Japan to open itself to the world. If the Japanese are unaware of the reasons why the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were destroyed and have never heard of the Burma Railway, the situation is quite different in Norway.
Of course, to get to this level of understanding of another country's culture, you have to understand the language, so school text books are not very often looked at by outsiders studying national identity. And perhaps an outsider can never really understand the inner workings of a different national psyche. A couple of examples of where non-Norwegians are definitely going to be at sea are the marvellous cartoons on pages 112 and 113 where questions of neutrality, self interest, unemployment, economic development lead to a feeling of helplessness close to that facing those with the prospect of a long imprisonment. The evocative cartoon of the man and woman sitting around a table, madame with her lapdog and her fur-trimmed cape, sir slumped over his cigar with his slippered feet on a footstool, thinking over his new year's resolution, shows what life was like in Kristiania.
Of course, everything was different in Oslo once the break with Sweden was accomplished! Here the book has excellent material on the Rifleringen, and young Norwegians are set to ponder what was the reality behind those who held the slogans Giv-Akt!!! Giv-Fyr! for freedom. When it comes to Norway in the war, the foreigner with his dictionary finds it easy going: Quisling's radio broadcast of 9 April 1940 to Norwegian women and Norwegian men is quite clear. But can one imagine a Japanese student being asked to examine the equivalent question for him or her to "Hvordan skulle NS nazisere Norge?" To sum up, this is an instructive publication for many levels of readers, whether one wishes to understand Olje-Norge or why Norway did not join the EU on its last opportunity.