Narratives of Immigration and National Identity: Findings from a Discourse Analysis of German and U.S. Social Studies Textbooks


  • Jan Michael Kotowski

    1. University of New Hampshire
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    • Jan Michael Kotowski, Ph.D., is a Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University of New Hampshire. His research interests include processes of national identity formation, theories of nationalism, European and U.S. politics, immigration, and discourse analysis. He is currently designing a research project on the history and future of multiculturalism in Germany in the context of the 2012 public debate on the legality of religiously mandated circumcisions.


Following the tradition of discourse analysis, this article examines representations of two narratives of immigration in U.S. and German social studies textbooks: the ideas of the United States as a nation of immigrants and of Germany as a (non-)immigration country. Textbooks are of particular importance in this regard, as they contain one of the few quasi-official formulations of national self-understandings. Among the most crucial findings is that in Germany, the country's decade-old self-denial of its status as a country of immigration is no longer a tenable official position, but, at the same time, the conscious self-identification as an immigration country has not yet profoundly reshaped German national identity. In the United States, on the other hand, the clichéd self-designation as a ‘nation of immigrants’ has not lost its appeal as a rhetorical device and grand narrative of national history, but seems increasingly anachronistic with regard to the country's broader immigration discourse.