Thursday, December 31, 2009

Brief Notes on the Intertwined History of Comparative and International Education in the Early Years

Those of you who enjoy reading about the history of international education may appreciate this IHEC Blog post that I pulled from my research notes. To be sure, a much longer manuscript could be written (and some have been written) on the development of the comparative education and international education fields during this time period.

Even though an all-telling history of international education has not been established
[1], many comparativists will agree that international education and travels to distant countries was the foundation on which comparative education was based.[2] William Brickman even notes in his writing the importance of early travels abroad to the foundation of the Comparative Education Society later called the Comparative and International Education Society.[3]

The 1920s and 1930s and the years after World War II brought about increased interest in going abroad and documentation on international exchange. These two decades also proved to be a significant time in itself for educators to explore educational systems in other countries. According to Jurgen Schriewer and Carlos Martinez, these decades were some of the most active times in terms of education for such countries as Spain, Russia/USSR, and China. They show through citations in major academic and scientific journals that this was the time period over the last 100 years that represented the most international exchange of ideas. They write, “The 1920s and early 1930s stand out as the period in history when all three countries clearly opened up their own reform reflections and displayed an enormous interest in international models, modern reference societies, and theory discussions from abroad.”

Not only did the idea and interest in travels abroad, the development of professional organizations, the creation of publications, and simply ripe timing surround the development of the comparative education and international education fields, but special reports and research by either government or private agencies also helped to create interest and awareness about systems abroad. In addition, the fields were solidified with the first organized academic program, as well as the development and emergence of other related areas of study.

[1] William Hoffa has done an excellent job of documenting the history of study abroad in the United States.
[2] Erwin H. Epstein, “Comparative and International Education: Overview and Historical Development,” in International Encyclopedia of Education, 2nd Ed., ed. Torsten Husen and T. Neville Postlethwaite, 918-923 (Oxford, England; New York: Pergamon; New York: Elsevier Science, 1994): 918-919.
David N. Wilson, "Comparative and International Education: Fraternal or Siamese twins? A preliminary genealogy of our twin fields," Comparative Education Review 38, no. 4 (November 1994): 451.
[3] William Brickman, “Genesis and Early Development of the Comparative and International Education Society” Comparative Education Review 10, no. 1 (February 1966): 9-19.
[4] Jurgen Schriewer and Carlos Martinez, “Constructions of Internationality in Education” in The Global Politics of Educational Borrowing and Lending, ed. Gita Steiner-Khamsi, 29-53 (New York: Teachers College Press, 2004): 45.


  1. David, I'm eager to see how your dissertation research is coming along. The definition of comparative education seems well established with a clear lineage, but I think a lot depends on how you define "international education." After World War II, there was also the rise of area and international studies, international development and technical assistance projects, "global" liberal education ideas, and international emphasis/collaboration within the disciplines (such as sociology) that has sometimes been included in "international education," and sometimes not. Our fractured histories don't always have clear lineages or links between each other.

    The other question seems to be how your approach history - do you approach it from a tradition of American history/civilization (as Mell Bolen has done, I think, in her work on women and study abroad), or from a more institutional, educational, or transnational standpoint? Without claiming to be an expert historian, I personally think some of the historical monographs that have been written are sometimes self-serving; it would be better, in my mind, to have some serious scholarship that is based on sound historical methodology. For this you'd have to at least begin with or consider American history traditions.


  2. @Bryan ~ Many thanks for taking the time to comment on this post. I appreciate it! In terms of my dissertation...well I'm still at the proposal stage and have been here for some time. I got tired of working full-time, serving on multiple international education committees and taking classes for 4 years and then writing my comprehensive examinations and then my third child was born. I do plan to complete my dissertation proposal this semester but Loyola should be happy that I'll be giving them cold hard cash for several semesters to come...