Nicholas Harrison

Jul 13, 2021

Our Civilizing Mission

The Lessons of Colonial Education

Liverpool University Press 2019

Nicholas Harrison's Our Civilizing Mission: The Lessons of Colonial Education (Liverpool UP, 2019) is a fascinating examination of colonial education not just as a facet of colonialism, but as an "example" of education in a broader sense, albeit an "extreme" one. At once a historical study, a series of close readings of texts, ideas, and authors, and a set of intellectual, professional, and political biographies, the book explores and interrogates approaches to the teaching of languages, literatures, and histories within and beyond colonial contexts. 

Centering as educators writers and thinkers essential to our critical understanding of colonialism and postcolonialism literature, the book has implications for how we think about the project of education as a whole, particularly in the Humanities, and especially right now. In chapters that pursue the educational, intellectual, and teaching stories of figures like Edward Said, Mouloud Ferraoun, Assia Djebar, and Albert Memmi, Our Civilizing Mission takes up issues of power and resistance in the definition and interpretation of "canon," pedagogic philosophies and approaches within and beyond classrooms, and the complex relationships between teaching, scholarship, and politics.

Reading this book and speaking with Nick, I was surprised by how much these chapters held for me, not just as a historian and scholar of France and empire, but as a teacher of these things who regularly asks myself questions about my own choices, goals, and approaches to working with students. It is a book I would recommend enthusiastically to anyone interested in the figures mentioned above, in the role that education has played in colonialisms past and present, and in the project of education on a much wider scale. What we do as teachers, why and how we do it, is interrogated here in ways that might surprise, and will certainly enlighten.

I hope listeners will enjoy our conversation!

Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada who specializes in twentieth and twenty-first century France and its empire. If you have a recent title to suggest for the podcast, please send her an email (panchasi@sfu.ca).

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Roxanne Panchasi

Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada who specializes in twentieth and twenty-first century France and its empire. If you have a recent title to suggest for the podcast, please send her an email (panchasi@sfu.ca).

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