The settler colonial university: Caitlin Patricia Alma Harvey, Bricks and Mortar Boards: University-Building in the Settlement Empire, 1840-1920, PhD dissertation, Princeton, 2021


Abstract: This dissertation examines the tremendous expansion of university education across Britain’s colonies of settlement and their self-governing successors – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States – from new universities’ shaky beginnings at the start of the nineteenth century to their firm foundations and continued growth a century later. Imperial, national, state or provincial legislation such as the American Morrill Act created over one hundred new institutions of higher education within eighty years. The imperative to build universities for settlers did not come from Britain. Nor were these institutions, as some scholars have suggested, the clear derivatives of European universities. In addition, before 1900, most settlers regarded undergraduate education as a “questionable experiment” due to the elitism of higher education, but also because access to elementary and secondary schooling was far from commonplace. The question at the core of this dissertation, then, is: why were so many universities built at all? In order to explain universities’ spread and staying power, Bricks and Mortar Boards covers the financial and administrative records of thirty-six universities on four continents, studied together for the first time. It argues that universities’ expansion depended on a confluence of contingent factors and at least one necessary condition: capital. A combination of religious rivalry, political fragmentation, interinstitutional and intercolonial learning, and distinctive financing strategies – based upon Indigenous land endowments and mineral wealth – propelled the incredible expansion of public universities across the nineteenth-century settler world. Bricks and Mortar Boards also serves as a wider case study of how non-governmental institutions perpetuated the authority of settler-colonial states and became a part of a broader move to territorialize Indigenous land. Britain’s global empire facilitated connections between settler institutions – of students, professors, technologies, and ideas – meaning that these universities did not develop in isolation from one another. Looking across these universities thus reveals patterns in their development that are not discernable at the level of a single institution. Instead, in a period of global migrations, gold rushes, and state expansion, educationalists who were oceans apart faced similar challenges and drew on imperial networks to overcome them.

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