Teaching Empire

Native Americans, Filipinos, and US Imperial Education, 1879–1918

Elisabeth M. Eittreim

At the turn of the twentieth century, the US government viewed education as one sure way of civilizing “others” under its sway—among them American Indians and, after 1898, Filipinos. Teaching Empire considers how teachers took up this task, first at the Carlisle Indian Boarding School in Pennsylvania, opened in 1879, and then in a school system set up amid an ongoing rebellion launched by Filipinos. Drawing upon the records of fifty-five teachers at Carlisle and thirty-three sent to the Philippines—including five who worked in both locations—the book reveals the challenges of translating imperial policy into practice, even for those most dedicated to the imperial mission.

These educators, who worked on behalf of the US government, sought to meet the expectations of bureaucrats and supervisors while contending with leadership crises on the ground. In their stories, Elisabeth Eittreim finds the problems common to all classrooms—how to manage students and convey knowledge—complicated by their unique circumstances, particularly the military conflict in the Philippines. Eittreim’s research shows the dilemma presented by these schools’ imperial goal: “pouring in” knowledge that purposefully dismissed and undermined the values, desires, and protests of those being taught. To varying degrees these stories demonstrate both the complexity and fragility of implementing US imperial education and the importance of teachers’ own perspectives. Entangled in US ambitions, racist norms, and gendered assumptions, teachers nonetheless exhibited significant agency, wielding their authority with students and the institutions they worked for and negotiating their roles as powerful purveyors of cultural knowledge, often reinforcing but rarely challenging the then-dominant understanding of “civilization.”

“Will appeal to students of the off-reservation boarding school movement as well as those seeking to deepen their knowledge of imperial education overseas.

—American Indian Culture and Research Journal

“Eittreim’s work impressively connects US civilizing missions for Native Americans and Filipinos through the realm of education. This book would be excellent reading for courses examining the history of education, empire, or Filipino or Native American policy.

—H-Net Reviews
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Examining these teachers’ attitudes and performances, close-up and in-depth over the years of Carlisle’s operation, Eittreim’s comparative study offers rare insight into the personal, institutional, and cultural implications of education deployed in the service of US expansion—with consequences that reach well beyond the imperial classrooms of the time.

About the Author

Elisabeth Eittreim is a lecturer in the History Department at Rutgers University and an adjunct in the Women’s Studies Department at Georgian Court University.