Eventos Académicos, 39 ISCHE. Educación y emancipación

Tamaño de fuente: 
Colonial figures in an ‘Education for All’. Danish popular education between colony and metropole, the 1880s to the 1930s
Mette Buchardt

Última modificación: 2017-07-17


In the Act of Sthyr, the first formal regulations for the elementary school curriculum in Denmark which were issued in 1900, two remarkable colonial references appeared: The regulation for the school subject Religious Education (‘Religion’) ruled that the pupils should, besides the catechism and bible history, learn about “the heathen mission” as one of the means to achieve the general goal of the school subject, namely that the pupils should be brought up into “a life in chastity”. The act also defined contents of for instance Object Lessons, a new and experimental school subject into which considerable pedagogical developmental energy had been invested in the past decades. Like Religious Education, this school subject featured colonial figures: As part of the so-called “first order” of phenomena which the pupils were supposed to learn about, the only content categorized under so-called ‘foreign countries’ was so-called “Negroes, Greenlanders”, referring to populations in the colonies under the Danish crown at the time, i.e. “the Danish Virgin Islands” and Greenland.

In the late 19th and early 20th century Kingdom Denmark was in the process of decolonization as well as in transition from absolutism and into a parliamentary democratic welfare state based on class alliance. This specific historical moment saw an increasing interest in experience and experiments with governing colonized populations’ education and conversion as well as descriptions of colonized populations, for instance Greenlanders, slaves and former slaves, in Danish ‘homeland’ education and pedagogy.

Among the key areas for such interventions was the effort to include knowledge on the foreign mission in ‘the homeland’ school curriculum and the development of labor education directed towards ‘the homely masses’. Academics from the humanities, especially from the new cultural sciences, played a central role in these pedagogical efforts, including cultural Protestant theologians from the new academic disciplines Comparative Religion and Missionary Studies; disciplines to which ‘culture’ was a central concept, and along with it notions of ‘cultural difference’. In their work, religion and religious categories were transformed into practiced concepts of ‘culture’ and put to work in the edification and the education of the metropolitan population. Colonial figures served as a central tool here.

Drawing on the thesis of the colonial sphere as a laboratory of modernity (e.g. Rabinow & Wright, Stoler, Thorne et al.), the paper explores how figures and strategies representing ‘the colonial’ were used when dealing with cultural difference and cohesion as a way to handle, legitimate and maintain social difference in the schooling of the metropolitan population. Besides laws and regulations, the source material consists of pedagogical writings and educational materials as well as popular science writings and missionary information pamphlets directed towards the broader public in metropolitan Denmark from the 1880s and up until the 1930s. The paper points to the overlapping character of socially practiced concepts and perception of religion, culture and race, as it was put to work in one of the central institutions for the production of state mentality and perceptions of citizens, namely the education system.