Comparative Education and Empires

Robert Cowen


There is a very large literature on Empires. There is a large literature on education and empires. However, there is only a small literature within comparative education on empires. Why? Given the numbers of people whose education was affected by Empires, given the stated intentions of those who created empires and imperial education systems, given the harmonies and tensions in most empires between politics and religion which played out in educational systems, and given some of the obvious differences between, say, the British, Dutch, French, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Soviet Empires and their discourses and practices in education, the silence is loud. This article will, first, reflect on the ways in which changes in ‘comparative education’ helped to construct that silence. Second, it will trace a more recent change in comparative education which opens up the possibility to re-assess Empires as a core theme of work, not just in the ‘history of education’ but in comparative education. That argument is pursued fully in the third section of the article. The conclusion notes yet another change in the political positioning of comparative education as a university subject and suggests that, despite new obstacles, empires ought to be a topic in our future and not just in our past.


comparative education; empires; politics of knowledge

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