Eventos Académicos, 39 ISCHE. Educación y emancipación

Tamaño de fuente: 
“Exiles from a civilized country”: the emancipation paradigm in early American schoolbooks
Luana Salvarani

Última modificación: 2017-07-25


During the late colonial period and the first decades of the new Republic, the European communities in North America presented themselves not only as a civilizing force (like in every colonization process) but also as a new, more perfect social reality and a real alternative to the lifestyle of the mother countries. The struggle for political independence from Great Britain contributed to creating a unique mental framework: the new Americans were depicted, as it can be read in a well-known 1822 schoolbook by Charles A. Goodrich, as “exiles from a civilized country”, inherently superior to the local populations (i.e., naturally dominant), but also in search of freedom and still emancipating themselves from a tyrannical power, the never-ending cultural menace of the Old World.

Inside the diverse and complex network of educational activities spreading across urban and rural contexts, a powerful emancipatory narrative on the birth of the American nation was built. The nation-building process was deemed able to extend its emancipatory example to any new European immigrant, even though the traditional ‘white man’s burden’ attitude was generally maintained towards the natives (who shared with African-Americans the status of people ‘to be educated’).

Education was crucial in this community-building process and embodied its vitality and contradictions. Schoolbooks and narratives for young readers give us a rich insight into the self-representations of the American people and the development of the ‘emancipation paradigm’.

It goes without saying that this paradigm had more to do with the “positive prejudice” defined by Benjamin Rush as the basis of U.S. patriotism than with a plural, comprehensive historical reading of the facts. Nevertheless, it has for decades been an outstanding educational tool to create and strengthen civic-mindedness, which proved itself vital to the coexistence of the different origins, ethnic groups and traditions on American soil, shaping consciences, performing a deep social engineering work and giving life to the complex ideal of the ‘true American citizen’.

In this paper, we will try to:

1. Examine several American schoolbooks from the early Republic to the 1820s to outline a clear conceptual framework based on primary sources. We will conduct the examination both at content level (selection of events, omissions) and at rhetoric/style level.

From a series of schoolbooks (listed in Bibliography) in which the emancipation paradigm is explicitly stated or clearly affects contents or style, we will choose for the presentation 3-4 books in which the paradigm is expressed in different ways and then outline the historical evolution in the treatment of the subject.

2. Assess the effects of the ‘emancipation paradigm’ on community-building and citizenship. Sources will be primarily reflections on education by the Founding Fathers, revealing the strong influence of the emancipation paradigm and its educational renditions on the articulation of the so-called ‘freedom/order paradox’. The overall silence of schoolbooks on controversial issues such as slavery will question us on how much historical truth should be altered for the sake of patriotism, and if a strong community-building educational narrative is still possible and viable today.