An aspect which makes studying colonial education fruitful and exciting is the complexity and dynamism both in terms of the colonial policies and in terms of the colonized populations’ responses

July Blalack, MULOSIGE, SOAS

This year’s MULOSIGE reading group has been dedicated to exploring literature in the colonial period for our regions under study. Given the primary role that education systems have in ensuring that something is read, and in defining what is ‘literature’ and what makes literature ‘good,’ they are an excellent inroad to outlining how literary forms and cultures in North India, the Maghreb, and the Horn of Africa responded to colonialism. For our reading group on 15 March 2017, we used a comparative view of colonial education to formulate some questions around these issues.

The readings which informed our discussion were works by Matteo Pretelli, Spencer D. Segalla, Jarrod Hayes, and Remi P. Clignet & Philip J. Foster. Pretelli and Segalla provide critical historical studies of colonial education in East Africa and in Morocco, respectively. In The Moroccan Soul, Segalla shows how the colonial education system grew out of essentialist ideas about the ‘nature’ of Moroccans and their need for education in line with their traditions. This approach was buoyed by the French ethnographic tradition and strengthened by the perceived failure of previous efforts to impose French culture via education in other colonies. Hayes’ study ‘Colonial Pedagogies of Passing and the Reproduction of Frenchness’ treats French literature and colonial education from another angle, namely how literary education offered the colonized the false promise of one day passing as French and thus ‘becoming human.’ He then compares this to the concept of ‘passing’ among gay and queer people (i.e. being generally perceived as straight or cisgender).

It is important to keep in mind that colonial educational systems did not represent a straightforward, all-encompassing imposition of European values on Maghrebi, East African, or Indian communities

In ‘French and British Colonial Education in Africa,’ Clignet and Foster take a comparative approach to colonial education systems and note that the simplistic dichotomy of British education as accommodating the colonized cultures and French education as trying to impose Frenchness does not hold up upon closer examination. Both colonial education policies used these two divergent strategies in different times or places, and the essential differences between them are largely exaggerated. An aspect which makes studying colonial education more fruitful and exciting than previously thought is, in fact, the complexity and dynamism both in terms of the colonial policies and in terms of the colonized populations’ responses.

We find it important to keep in mind that colonial educational systems did not represent a straightforward, all-encompassing imposition of European values on Maghrebi, East African, or Indian communities. The colonial schools, in fact, were often ineffective in assimilating or even reaching their intended students, as was emphasized by Professor Nick Harrison’s talk on Mouloud Feraoun and French colonial education in Algeria. Additionally, there were initiatives which willingly took from European-style education in the Maghreb before colonialism, for example the opening of an engineering school in Fez by Sultan Moulay Abderrahmane. After France colonized Algeria, the Tunisian reformist Khayr al-Din al-Tunisi opened the Sadiqi College. Al-Tunisi’s curriculum combined aspects of Islamic education with scientific subjects and European languages, and the school attracted the attention of French administrators from Algeria. They came to examine the school in 1876, and were actually influenced by its curriculum (see Julia Clancy-Smith’s Mediterraneans: North Africa and Europe in an Age of Migration, c. 1800-1900, 2011, p. 307).

MULOSIGE continued this discussion of colonialism and education with Professor Marilyn Booth’s work on education, etiquette, and gender anxieties in colonial Egypt during our March 21st reading group. Professor Booth also gave a fascinating talk on how Fénelon’s De l’éducation des filles (1687) took on a new life as an text of Egyptian modernity through two different 19th century Arabic translations, each of which took different approaches to presenting and contextualizing the book.

Research specifically examining how French, British, or Italian colonial education shaped literary tastes and production is still scarce. Thus the European University Institute’s ‘Colonialism and Education in a Comparative Perspective’ conference in October 2017 is quite timely, and we are eager to see which studies will touch on literature within colonial education.

MULOSIGE team members Dr. Karima Laachir and Dr. Fatima Burney collaborated with Professor Nick Harrison of King’s College to develop a module for studying colonial education comparatively. Please register on the MULOSIGE portal in order to access this resource.

Join the MULOSIGE team for our next reading group! Check out our Reading Group page for more information and get in touch with us through our Contact page if you would like to join us.

Clignet, R.P. & P.J. Foster, ‘French and British Colonial Education in Africa‘ in Comparative Education Review 8:2 (October 1964), 191-8.

Hayes, J.: ‘Colonial Pedagogies of Passing and the Reproduction of Frenchness‘ in Women’s Studies Quarterly 34:1/2 (Spring/Summer 2006), 153-72.

Pretelli, M.: ‘Education in the Italian colonies during the interwar period,’ in Modern Italy 16:3 (August 2011), 275-93.

Segalla, S.D.: The Moroccan Soul: French Education, Colonial Ethnology and Muslim Resistance, 1912-1956 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), especially chapter 1, ‘Empire and Education.’

Miran, J.: ‘Missionaries, Education and the State in the Italian colony of Eritrea’ in Christian Missionaries and the State in the Third World, eds H.B. Hansen & M. Twaddle (Oxford: James Curray, 2002).

Pankhurst, R.: ‘Education in Ethiopia during the Italian Fascist Occupation (1936-1941)‘ in The International Journal of African Historical Studies 5:3 (1972), 361-96.

White, R.W.:Talk about School: Education and the Colonial Project in French and British Africa (1860-1960)‘ in Comparative Education, 32:1 (1996), 9-26.