Hitler's Car as Curriculum Text: Reading Adolescents Reading History

Sara Matthews


In this paper I explore how adolescents and beginning teachers encounter and respond to Hitler’s private limousine, a prominent and controversial exhibit at the Canadian War Museum. I first consider the conflicts of learning at stake when the curriculum contains representations of social trauma and war. I then draw from psychoanalytic perspectives on human development to think about what happens when conflict as it is represented in the world outside meets conflict in the individual’s inner world or psychology. Several research questions are raised: How do adults ‘read’ adolescents reading history and understand adolescents’ emotional connections to difficult historical objects? Further, how are these reading practices shaped by the traumatic losses that the concept of adolescence, as a category of the human, works to contain? What adolescence, as both a lived experience and social and developmental entity must endure, I argue, is the nostalgic hope for an adult world reconciled as free from conflict and human suffering. The paper conceptualizes how difficult it is for adults to separate their own conflicts of making a relationship to history from those of the adolescent learner and to encounter the adolescent as more than a story of historical consolation.


curriculum studies; adolescent development; history education; psychoanalysis; Canadian War Museum; nostalgia

Full Text: