Schools of empires: the role of higher education and colonization in the American West and Japan

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


The historical relevance of the role of the university is related to research in both local and global exchanges, the accessibility to forms of higher education, and the decentralization and use of scientific knowledge. Using institutions at Gottingen, Amherst, New York, Bozeman, and Sapporo, this dissertation interrogates how geographical space, settler colonialism, and socio-cultural contexts inform scientific, agricultural, and engineering practices, research, and education from the nineteenth into the twenty-first century. Beginning with Wilhelm von Humboldt's twin pillars of academic freedom and the combination of research and teaching, this dissertation traces the migration of approaches to higher education from German schools to the American East. American conceptions of higher education evolved as educators like Frederick A. P. Barnard called for reform and academics returned from abroad. In the 1860s, the land grant school and the school of mines provided models to reshape the educational and geographical landscape of the country. As settlers colonized the American West, boosters established new schools based on civic or religious interests before state and industrial entities funded other institutions. In Montana, proximity to mining facilitated the establishment of its first school of mines and political interests led to the decentralization of the state schools. After the Meiji Restoration, Japan sought new forms of knowledge to strengthen its imperial rule, and in the colonization of Hokkaido, Kiyotaka Kuroda identified the land grant model displayed under William Smith Clark's leadership in Massachusetts as the ideal example to adopt. Both case studies demonstrate higher education's adaptability and its tenuous relationship with government expectations and funding. As Japan's empire crumbled, evolving geopolitical matters influenced the American government to increase federal funding opportunities leading to the alignment of schools and programs with the Academic-Military-Industrial Complex. Laboratories such as the Electronics Research Laboratory at Montana State University demonstrate how this relationship affected new forms of technology and research. Based on archival research and personal interviews, this dissertation analyzes the historical, multifaceted role of the university, its accessibility, and how Humboldtian ideals, reflected in practice, shape our understanding of the present and future role of higher education.




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