Erik Sjöberg's project

(Inter-)nationalism and the new Turkey: the rise and fall of international education at Istanbul’s Robert College, c. 1913-1933

The aftermath of World War I saw the emergence of a movement for international education among scholars and educators in Europe and North America. Its proponents maintained that excessive and belligerent nationalism, especially in the teaching of history and the social sciences, was one of the main causes of the Great War, and that the duty of educators was to counter such harmful national bias by imbuing young students with a sense of “world-mindedness”. This effort, however, had to be reconciled with the nationalist projects of emerging nation-states, built on the ruins of the old Romanov, Habsburg and Ottoman empires. In the latter case that meant coming to terms with the nationalist modernization project of the Young Turks and, later, Kemal Atatürk’s Turkish Republic.

The aim of the project is to analyse a hitherto understudied aspect of the history of Turkish nationalism and education, namely the paradoxical relation between “international education”, or even “peace education”, and the militaristic, Turcocentric national ideology in the first half of the 20th century. Using the case of the Robert College, an American private institution in Istanbul, founded in 1863, which aimed to foster a future local elite of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious student body, and its social-studies instructor Dr. Edgar Jacob Fisher, the project sheds light on the negotiation between two conceptions of modernity, as represented by American internationalist ideals and the tenets of Kemalism, the Westernizing, yet deeply ethnocentric national ideology of post-1923 Turkey. The material for this study is drawn from correspondence, reports, class notes and student essays held at archives of Robert College as well as private collections of its teaching staff, primarily those of Dr. Fisher. Using this material, the study addresses the educational intentions of the school’s staff, strategies for adjustment developed in the struggle for influence with the Turkish authorities and the reasons for the eventual demise of international education, as well as students’ understanding of internationalism, religious, ethnic and national identity in the Ottoman past and in the new Turkish republic; a perspective that is missing in previous research on the history of education and nationalism in Turkey during the early Republican era (1923-1950).