Authoritarians are often adept at manipulating narratives about the past to their advantage. History and memory are core to national and individual identity, defining borders, asserting cultural norms and religious identities. Russia’s rewriting of Ukraine’s history has given it an ideological basis for its full-scale invasion and attempted erasure of Ukrainian identity. In India, Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has evoked the distant past to stoke intercommunity tension and redefine the secular Indian state as one based around Hinduism. And in the U.S., Republican politicians intent on fighting a culture war are attacking teachers and librarians, politicizing history books and school curricula.

Over the past year, Coda journalists have reported from over 13 countries on how history, identity and memory are being instrumentalized by politicians, tech companies and even angry parents. The resulting stories explored the ways in which the past is being used to serve present-day political agendas, influencing voters and drumming up popularity.

No doubt these trends will continue in 2024, a year that is slated to see major elections held in India, Russia and the U.S. Narratives around historic victimhood and belonging are already at the center of national campaigns and will be topics that our reporting team continues to watch closely.

But before we leave this year behind, take a look at our top stories from our history coverage in 2023:

1. Over the past year, reporter Erica Hellerstain closely followed educators in the U.S. as they found themselves caught up in the ongoing clash of ideologies over history, racism and LGBTQ rights. In Arizona, an “empower hotline” for parents to report “inappropriate” teaching dialed up pressure on already overstretched public school teachers. In Missouri, librarians feared prosecution under a new law criminalizing some books in school library circulation. New restrictions on college education in Florida copy-catted bans already in place in Hungary and Poland.

2. To try and justify the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian officials have turned to high school textbooks, revising the curriculum to teach students about why it was necessary to wage war on the neighboring country. Starting this fall, the government cut its selection of approved textbooks down to a single, rewritten volume for 11th graders, with a similar narrowing of state history curriculum into a unified textbook planned for next year across lower grades. The new textbooks quote President Vladimir Putin’s claim about the “revival of Nazism” in Ukraine and argue that the country should not exist. This level of direct political influence in Russian education hasn’t been seen since Russia was part of the Soviet Union.

3. In Australia, a decades-long, state-sponsored campaign is reinventing the history of the country’s involvement in the First World War. As mulitculturalism has grown and calls to reckon with Australia’s history of colonial violence have increased, the government has put large sums of money towards WWI memorialization programs as a way to assert a militarized vision of a strong Australia proud of its ties to imperial Britain.

4. In Turkey, guardians of historical memory clashed with Disney over a TV series about the founder of the modern Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In August, officials opened an investigation into the streaming company for pulling out of the much-hyped series planned for the 100th anniversary of the founding of Turkey. The controversy underscored the challenges facing U.S. giants such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney when tapping into the global entertainment market.

5. The invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 sparked widespread embrace of Ukrainian culture and language. However, Ukraine is home to more than one culture and language, and some minority groups in the western part of the country have become collateral damage. Members of Ukraine’s historical Romanian-speaking community feel that despite their support of the Ukrainian state in its war against Russia, they are being edged out of public life. As Ukraine doubles down on its national identity, who is left behind?

6. Germany’s ban on most protests in support of Palestinians has sparked a national crisis, raising questions about what, exactly, Germany has learned from its history. The crackdown has fueled a passionate discussion about how Germany’s culture of taking collective responsibility for the Holocaust is coming into conflict with basic democratic rights of assembly and expression.