Teaching the World in Three Mass Education Systems: Britain, Egypt, and India, 1950-1970

Susan Douglass

Advisor: Sumaiya A. Hamdani, PhD, Department of History and Art History

Committee Members: Dina Copelman, Peter Mandaville

Johnson Center, #311D
July 20, 2016, 01:00 PM to 10:00 AM


This dissertation investigates teaching about the world through the lens of textbooks used in state education systems of Britain, India, and Egypt from the 1950s to the 1970s. These case studies are related by British colonial rule over two strategically
vital parts of the empire. India and Egypt experienced nationalist struggles that brought full independence after World War II, and their leaders became prominent among newly independent nations and on the world stage. Britain influenced the education systems of India and Egypt as a colonial power, and influenced the production of textbooks. Tracing the process of creating mass education systems from the mid-nineteenth to the midtwentieth century in all three cases illustrates the process of initiating mass education that underlies the setting and use of textbooks as a technology of teaching. In Britain, the movement toward educating the masses arose with industrialization, and had expanded to cover primary and elementary education of most Britons by the end of the nineteenth century, after Britain’s industrial dominance had peaked. Secondary education only became widely available to the working classes during the twentieth century. In India, elites responded early to the stimulus of new forms of schooling, and demanded broader educational opportunities as a response to its status as a colony. Nationalists came to view mass education as a key to India’s development, and those who could do so embraced education as a path to careers in the colonial bureaucracy of the Raj after 1857. In Egypt, modernization began as a project of Ottoman governor Muhammad Ali, who enlisted elites into the project, and only gradually embraced wider segments of society in the education project. Mass education was a global development that represents the expanding role of the state and its embrace of the citizenry, reaching into their lives in previously unimagined ways.

After World War II, the British education system completed the process of extending universal, compulsory education to age 16, and adjusted its to new economic and social conditions. Only after independence were India and Egypt able to undertake
efforts to raise literacy among the masses on a national scale by implementing new education systems and producing textbooks to support national identity and social integration. The textbooks chosen for this study were produced in the decades following
independence in India and Egypt; the British textbooks were newly produced or revised books published during the period of postwar reconstruction and realignment of its position in the world under decolonization.

Analysis of the textbooks in world history and geography reveals distinctive characteristics of content and narrative transmitted to youth on behalf of these states, revealing salient points of similarity and divergence among the three countries in the
worldview that they conveyed to students. Analysis gauges the influence of European narratives in Indian and Egyptian textbooks, and examines themes such as the ordering of the past through periodization, framing of the civilizational and religious heritage in
national and world history, and the construction of the nation in the modern world through economic development.

This dissertation adds to the field of textbook research, which has concentrated mainly on national history narratives, by analyzing how history and geography textbooks expressed a view of the world as a whole, and the nation’s place in the world past and
present. Both decolonization and globalization make it important to see how the nation viewed the world and transmitted this worldview to its citizenry. Decolonization profoundly impacted the way in which the nation is understood in the context of the
world as a whole. In this study two important newly independent nations worked out their identities and paths of development, while Britain came to terms with its diminished global role as it shed its colonies and transformed its place in the world. The study
explores how, in the decades after World War II, these three different nations portrayed their own usable pasts in the context of the world’s heritage, and projected themselves forward into the modern world through economic and social development. The structure of mass education systems and the content conveyed to students exemplifies the deep intrusion of the modern nation into the minds of children and youth in service of asserting its identity and defining its place on the global stage.