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KU researcher co-edits first international handbook of history of education

Monday, March 02, 2020

LAWRENCE — The history of education is a complex topic even when it is focused on just one country. A University of Kansas researcher has co-edited the first-ever international handbook of the history of education, documenting not only the major differences in how students learn around the world but also highlighting how the field of education has evolved.

John Rury, KU professor of education leadership & policy studies and by courtesy history, is a co-editor of “The Oxford Handbook of the History of Education.” With Eileen Tamura, professor emerita of education at the University of Hawai‘i, Rury gathered chapters from 39 scholars detailing the rich history of education from varying global perspectives. In more than 600 pages, the handbook tackles how time, culture, social and political influences have shaped education as a practice and how current educational historians are expanding the field to investigate issues such as gender, race, ethnicity, the history of literacy, technology and other aspects of social and economic history.

In “The Oxford Handbook” introduction, Rury and Tamura document how educational history has evolved as a field. While it was once largely removed from other areas of historical scholarship, the 1960s and '70s brought about change in how the discipline was viewed and practiced. Educational history has since gained not only greater academic legitimacy, but it has proven to be instrumental in understanding how education has been practiced as well as contributing to social and political history around the world.

“I think the fact that there are chapters on so many parts of the world and their educational histories makes it accessible and of interest to many types of people,” Rury said. “Each chapter is interpretive, not just relaying information but offering a thoughtful, historically informed account of a topic or problem.”

The handbook is divided into six parts, with the first examining interpretive frames used throughout the field of educational history. Part II explores pre-modern education with chapters focused on Greek and Roman antiquity, medieval Europe, premodern China and Japan, and pre-colonial indigenous education in the Western Hemisphere and Pacific.

Part III documents the rise of national educational systems throughout the world and the roles they played in using education as a means of advancing a national agenda. Part IV focuses on the emergence of modern higher education, including the development of the modern research university in Germany and higher education in Europe and Asia.

The handbook’s Part V turns focus to inequality and discrimination and their pervasiveness in education. Specifically, authors document how inequality, gendering of history, race and ethnicity, migration, colonialism and other factors have been used throughout history and across borders to control who has access to education. The final part expounds on additional themes in the literature of educational history, including the relationship between religion and education, progressive education, transitions from rural to urban schooling, the modern history of literacy, the history of technology in education and the history of transnational and comparative education.

While valuable as a reference book, “The Oxford Handbook” is not only for scholars, Rury said, adding that it can be used as a textbook in a number of contexts, as chapters are available individually via the Oxford handbooks web site, including the introduction. It also considers debates in the field throughout its chapters and offers suggestions for further reading and analysis.

Rury is an author or editor of 10 other books on the history of education, including a co-edited volume about KU, and Tamura has written or edited seven. While “The Oxford Handbook” presents an international look at the history of education, it also provides a look forward.

“In the wake of global social change, questions of cultural diversity, social harmony and economic inequality have grown ever more important, and education systems are implicated to one degree or another in all of them,” Rury and Tamura wrote. “Given this, it seems likely that the field of historical research and writing on educational topics will continue to be important, both as a means of reflecting on such issues and for aiding in the articulation of answers to the dilemmas they pose, offering valuable contributions both to educational research and historical scholarship.”

Image: "The Oxford Handbook of the History of Education." Credit: Oxford University Press