Lessons of Colonialism: An Education for the Segregated U.S. South

Emily Masghati, University of Northern Iowa

This paper uncovers an attempt by a major foundation, the Julius Rosenwald Fund, to translate the theories and methods of colonial administration developed in British East African and Dutch Java to the U.S. South during the Great Depression era. In 1934, the Rosenwald Fund established the Council on Rural Education. The Council brought together education scholars, reformers, and southern education officials, almost all of whom were white, to oversee a massive ethnographic study of the rural South. To conduct the study, the Council recruited a group of white and black early career educationists, dubbed their “Explorers,” who were to both research and enact education policy. Although most had no formal training in social anthropology, the Explorers were instructed to apply the participant-observer methodology. Their primary purpose, as the name Explorer suggests, was to make legible what the Council members perceived of as unknown, black rural communities in the South. This paper argues that in conjunction with the Rosenwald Fund officers, the Council members conceived of the study as a colonial fact-finding expedition. The paper first establishes the origins of the Explorations in the two colonial consultation projects undertaken by Rosenwald Fund president Edwin Embree and secretary Margaret Simon. I then examine the design, objectives, and stakes of the Explorer project, which offers a window into the complications involved in translating the techniques of colonial administration to regionally defined questions of race in the U.S. I conclude by considering how this transnational context prompts us reconsider the domestic activities of the Rosenwald Fund, namely how foundation officials utilized social scientific theories and methods to reimagine problematics that were often defined in the domestic, exceptionalist terms. Themes: foundation philanthropy, colonial administration, education, racial formation, social anthropology, ethnographic methods, U.S. South, rural life, American exceptionalism, African American education

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 98. Colonization, Race and Education