Colonialism and education in a comparative perspective: analysing gendered civilizing missions (ca. 1850-1970)

Colonialism and education in a comparative perspective: analysing gendered civilizing missions (ca. 1850-1970)

Maryna Batsman and Kirsten Kamphuis (European University Institute), Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk and Daniëlle Teeuwen (Wageningen University & Research)
From - Until
26.10.2017 -
Danielle Teeuwen

In recent years, education has received renewed attention from historians interested in nineteenth- and twentieth-century colonial contexts. Influenced by new research in the fields of children’s studies and colonial studies, historians have attempted new approaches: they have, for example, turned to the study of educational practice and pedagogy in colonial settings, investigated the role age and race played in the colonial classroom, reflected on children’s agency in colonial educational structures, and drawn comparisons between different geographical contexts and forms of colonialism. All these approaches have helped to move beyond the study of formal educational policy by colonial governments, a focus that has long dominated research on the history of colonial education.

These developments in the field of colonial education align with the more general tendency to highlight the complexities of colonial societies. Instead of assuming a clear divide between the colonizer and the colonized, current historiography increasingly focuses on the different groups that constituted colonial society (such as missionaries, colonial officials, doctors, and indigenous middle classes), their specific interests, and their interrelationships. A good example of this approach in the context of education is Esther Möller’s Orte der Zivilisierungsmission. Französische Schulen im Libanon 1909-1943 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), in which she compares Islamic, Jewish, Christian, and secular schools in French colonial Lebanon. This new understanding of colonial societies improve our understanding of the multifaceted social realities of colonial life. It has, moreover, also stimulated new ways of thinking about colonial civilizing missions. The idea of a monolithic ideology imposed top-down on the colonized populations by the colonial powers, has made way for more various, flexible and often contradictory visions of civilizing missions and their reception.

Two related developments can thus be observed in the field of colonial history: on the one hand, there is a renewed interest in colonial education, and on the other hand we see a reevaluation of the idea of civilizing missions. This workshop aims to bring together these two eliciting developments. It also asks how the category of gender could be usefully introduced in this context. This question seems especially pertinent, given that many educational projects were ultimately aimed at the moral reform of indigenous families, thereby introducing new gendered practices. Educational practices in the classroom were also explicitly gendered.

The workshop encourages a comparative approach on different levels, drawing from a body of scholarship that has demonstrated the fruitfulness of comparisons between different empires, colonies, regions and schools of different signatures. We hope to bring together a group of around ten scholars working on diverse geographical, religious and cultural contexts, which will enable a discussion on which approaches and methods are regarded as most fruitful for researchers across the field of colonial history. Apart from historians working on ‘overseas’ European colonies, we also strongly encourage scholars of the European land empires and other colonial/imperial political constellations to apply.

Topics and themes may include:
- Theoretical reflections on age, gender and education in a colonial context
- Methodological issues and source material related to colonial education
- Oral histories about children’s and teachers’ experiences
- Discourses of ‘modernity’ and ‘tradition’ in relation to education
- Family life and domesticity in colonial education
- The relationship between education, gender and the marriage market
- Education as a preparation for paid labour
- Colonial education, charity and its gendered aspects

The workshop is to be held on 26 October 2017 in Villa Salviati, EUI, Florence. To apply, please send an abstract of around 500 words and a short biographical note to by 20 April 2017. Applicants will be notified of the decision in May.


Contact (announcement)

Kirsten Kamphuis
European University Institute

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