This essay explores the historiography of American and European education, considering how educational historians communicate powerful messages about the purposes and promises of schooling through their writing. I divide the historiography of American education into four interpretive traditions: traditionalism, radical revisionism, progressive revisionism, and plural revisionism. Each phase of the historiography, I argue, has supported particular myths about the relationship between public schooling and society. European historians have shared many of the interpretive assumptions contained within traditionalist, radical revisionist, and progressive revisionist scholarship, conveying similar myths to their US counterparts. Contemporary histories of European education, however, are distinct from recent histories of the US. In comparing the divergent trajectories of these two historiographies, I conclude by suggesting the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary scholarship in both fields, an assessment derived from a review of the underlying myths conveyed by each history. Recent US scholarship remains committed to narrative and draws attention to the educational experiences of marginalised groups. Scholarship on European education, in contrast, has explicitly embraced theoretical interpretive frameworks while also giving less attention to schooling on the margins. At the same time, many European histories of education have maintained a critical view of schooling, while some recent scholarship within the US has de-emphasised this connection, echoing older interpretive traditions and tacitly reinforcing faith in the ameliorative potential of public education.
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