Education, empire and social change in nineteenth century England

Ruth Watts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Citations (Scopus)


This article discusses the effects of imperialism on British (or chiefly English) social life and education in the nineteenth century rather than examining the effects on the colonised as is usually done. It is shown that the nineteenth century was infused with different visual and written images which helped develop attitudes and ideas which influenced social change in Britain. The oimperial gazeo demonstrated a fascination with the unknown and exotic; a scientific curiosity to discover, collect, classify and explain; an economic desire to find and exploit; and mixed motivations from religious, humanitarian and nationalistic impulses to convert, ociviliseo and dominate. In different ways and at different levels this entailed a wish to oknowo and an urge to pass on presumed otruthso that interlocked imperial influences into educational enterprise, although not necessarily within formal schooling. As the century progressed, events within the expanding empire, combining with scientific theories, helped to develop cultural arrogance, dominated by ideas of white, Western superiority. Yet there was no homogenous, uncontested discourse. As post-imperial debates suggest, chronological shifts, differing gender and class responses are significant. Effects could be paradoxical as those of imperial opportunities and rhetoric were on women's lives. Examples from other imperial nations, especially France and the Netherlands, indicate parallel imperial, sometimes imperialistic, concerns and interests and varying consequences, but in different contexts. The paper ends with some suggestions on how the difficulties of analysing the effects of empire on social change and education could be addressed within history of education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)773-786
Number of pages14
JournalPaedagogica Historica
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


  • images
  • gender
  • imperialism
  • social change
  • education


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