Chapter 2 - an adventure in learning
Summary of chapter (to be discussed today lunchtime):
Chpt 2 - an adventure in learning
This chapter begins at the beginning of Europeans exploration – when they went exploring and discovering this amazing 'new world'. Their main discovery was essentially how wrong they were and how little they knew. These new discoveries meant they had to "an opportunity for rethinking what the earth was and could now be". An interesting way of thinking as you would hope that if someone had just discovered their way of thinking was not accurate, they would like to learn from those with more wisdom - rather than determining what and how they would like to learn by themselves. Instead "the adventurer-scholar would bring order to what was strange, dividing up nature and world by name and maps as if to make them anew". They saw this as a chance to "rebuilt a world that had been lost, and to build it with greater strength and integrity". I found the language used quite interesting here - greater strength and integrity. This is something we are still led to believe the Western world have over the rest of the world - even down to when they make new laws such as ensuring we all have "British values" whatever that may be or otherwise be treated as suspects.
The writer goes on to then discuss why this is still relevant and important today - especially when it comes to our educational system - "it will not do to try to forget a past that is not past".
It was through imperialism that we have what we now come to understand as the education system - lectures, circuses, museums, zoological and botanical gardens. He says "imperialism proved a keen sponsor of an extensive public education on the benefits of global domination". I think this ties in with our discussion last week about what we count as education and how we should not assume or let them have us believe that an education can only be found in the schooling system.
And then he goes into why this is so dangerous. "Knowledge was no longer sought in looking for the semblance amongst things; rather, the aim or scholarship was to determine differences". Because by making something look very different to yourself, they were able to strengthen their own identify. Of course the knowledge gathered was done through a white and Eurocentric gaze. This knowledge was “later sold back to the colonies at a premium that would largely tech them their place at the periphery of learning”. The knowledge was lorded over them and used to rule. And it is this same knowledge that was used to build the systems – including the education and judicial systems we have today.
Later on in the text an example is given on how the difference taught is used to “license the abusive and autocratic treatment of the East India Company’s Indian employees and families by the otherwise English”.
And it was not just knowledge of the way people behaved. It was the ownership of names. A classing system was established for species – in Latin. “Linnaus insisted, with some pride, that his system could be acquired and applied by annoying (with a Latin education). I actually remember being taught this system in Biology in school and being taught how great this system is because it can be used to join up scholars all over the world since they had one naming system. Places were named too. “Naming a place is about staking and extending a verbal claim to it” – names which had no relevance to the indigenous people who had lived there and had their own names – erasing all its history like you had just discovered it. Some places were named to honour heroes of the empire 0 soldiers, administrators, statists and educators. We have this here at UCL too and it given UCL’s desire to look into how to “deal” with this now, I thought we could have a discussion about this too and what is the best way to move forward.
This chapter also touches upon a number of other issues such as the white saviour complex. For example when India was colonised “Hasting saw himself as protecting the country from its own decline, as well as from the less learned among the British”. This reminded me of an interesting discussion taking place right now about the importance of self-organising and having safe, self-defining spaces.
A few other points that I found interesting was how the divide and rule play was used – by teaching and highlighting the difference between communities that were living together before. And the stealing of the Rosetta stone. I actually had no idea that this was an actual thing and my only association to “Rosetta stone” is the language learning company – which I am now horrified at – similar to the Columbus travel insurance company – these are just names that are being normalised without looking whilst washing over the horrific histories.
To close, the writer states “now clearly, the learning that came of those shipboard days were not wholly or endemically evil” – which my ancestors would probably disagree with. He also questions whether “learning on this scale requires a colonial empire to sustain”.
Sareh Thu 7 May 2015 10:58AM
It was an interesting discussion this week.
Nathaniel started by recommending a book - Richard Symonds' Oxford & Empire - which identifies Oxford as the most imperial of universities.
Last week, he also recommended Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities by Craig Steven Wilder.
The part of the discussion this week that particularly interested me started with considering these two central points
1) The centrality of difference (difference as the engine of Empire), and
2) A separation of meaning and value. Detatching the historical and economic values from "knowledge".
Clearly both of these have been used, however, can we envisage a system that is not based on either? What does it mean to not have centrality of difference? How would we organise our 'knowledge'?
There was mention of plurality of thought not necessarily meaning the ranking of ideas.
Someone said that only after thinking about the ways we historically learned via colonisation, only then can we look at ways of learning outside of this framework.
A question that was asked and discussed during the session:
Would it have been possible to produce the knowledge that is Egyptology as a discipline to be created without imperialism?
I suppose I'd like to examine is how has imperialism warped our view of Egypt and reproduced harmful hierarchies of 'knowledge'? How can we break away from this?
As always, there was livetweeting of the reading group discussion, which you can catch up on here: https://www.twitter.com/search?q=%23educationalrepair
John Willinsky Thu 7 May 2015 6:04PM
Interesting questions for an interesting case. I do think that Egyptology is a particularly distinctive case of imperialism's educational apparatus at work.
I say distinctive because of how successfully Egyptology (the word capturing it so well) tapped into a popular cultural fascination in Paris, London and elsewhere with what was packaged as exotic, erotic, stylish, mysterious, and remote, and yet rightfully belonging to European superior sensibilities that alone were capable of both appreciating and utilizing it. Egyptology wasn't necessary for imperialist activities in that region, but it became this European cultural phenomenon, an expression of enthusiasm for imperial exploits that could be clearly celebrated and enjoyed in all innocence.
As such Egyptology was assumed to provide further warrant for what was otherwise the general disregard and imperialist interest in the exploitation of this region and its peoples, as it so clearly attested to the educated superiority of the imperial center, entrusted as it was assumed to be with this Hegelian historical responsibility for the fate of civilization.
How much of this remains part of how Egypt is understood today in the West is not just about, say, the Egyptology of tourism but in Edward Said's work on how much of it remains a matter of the scholarly regard and more formal constructions of learning and knowledge.
Fabian Tompsett Wed 13 May 2015 12:42AM
Egyptology has been a hotly contested area of debate in the USA from the days when it was an issue in the struggle for the abolition of slavery there. It also became a big issue in the 1990s following Mary Lefkowitz's publication of Not Out of Africa (1996) and became linked to struggles around the curriculum at City University of New York.
See my blog for more details
Sareh · Wed 6 May 2015 9:19AM
We will be discussing this chapter today (6th May) at 1pm in the TCRU Library, 27 Woburn Square. Unfortunately this location is only accessible via stairs - we are currently trying to find a fully accessible room for future weeks, but in the meantime will be at this location. Pdf link for this chapter: http://goo.gl/ISYqSm
Copies of the book were supposed to arrive by today, but they have been delayed. They should almost certainly be here by next week! (They will cost £18.)