Theses Doctoral

Schooling the Master: Caste Supremacy and American Education in British Ceylon, 1795–1855

Balmforth, Mark Edward

Drawing on archival materials, family stories, and student artwork, “Schooling the Master: Caste Supremacy and American Education in British Ceylon, 1795–1855” examines how nineteenth-century American missionary education in South Asia facilitated dominant-caste supremacy while distributing negotiated sensibilities of colonial modernity. The work’s first section explores the arrangement of an educational nexus of mutual benefit between the Jaffna Peninsula’s dominant Veḷḷāḷar caste, the British Ceylonese government, and American Protestant missionaries. I track this nexus from its origins in the veranda school of Tamil Śaiva poet Kūḻaṅkai Tampirāṉ (1699–1795) to its apogee in the American Ceylon Mission boarding schools of the late 1840s. The dissertation’s second part examines two pedagogies of colonial modernity: the embroidery of needlework samplers that taught an American form of gendered domesticity, and map drawing that imparted a geographically specific and American-style national identity. By describing three moments in its development and two pedagogical facets of its career, the dissertation argues that an educational nexus crafted for some Veḷḷāḷars a distinct Jaffna Tamil identity that is geographically bound, gendered, and pervaded by a sense of superiority. This dissertation makes two significant contributions to South Asian studies, first by demonstrating an unexamined arrangement of power in the context of colonialism—the educational nexus—and second, by exploring the way colonial teaching methods in the first half of the nineteenth century transformed South Asian ways of being.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
McDermott, Rachel Fell
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 19, 2020