National narratives have often served to mobilize the masses for war by providing myths and distorted interpretations of the past, while conversely wars were major sources for producing national narratives. Because national history is very likely to remain a central topic in history education, albeit in ways that differ from how the topic was used fifty years ago, it is important to gain a greater understanding of the underlying structures and mechanisms of these narratives in history textbooks. After outlining the historical interconnectedness of the emerging nation states and history teaching, this review article explains the complexity of the history textbook as an educational resource. Next, we identify some current problems and challenges in history textbook research. We continue by discussing promising research trends related mainly to national narratives, such as the analysis of images, the use of digital tools, and studies of the autonomy of textbook narratives and of history textbooks in relation to other media. Another recent reorientation is textbook research that uses a holistic approach. By this we mean studies that examine the history textbook as a whole: composition, periodization, visual intertextuality and chapters that do not at first glance appear to focus on national history. These studies offer new insights and explanations for the perpetuation of national narratives in history textbooks.