Liberal Subjects: Free Blacks and Elementary Education in the British West Indies, 1834-1865
Christopher Bischof

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Richmond

Primary Discipline

In the years following emancipation in 1834, the British state spent more money on elementary education in the West Indies for free blacks than on elementary education in Britain itself. These years also saw a surge of private donations and a general outpouring of public support for the missionary-led campaign to expand elementary education in the West Indies. The great hope underpinning this enthusiasm was that elementary education would turn former slaves into self-acting liberal subjects who would embrace capitalism and revive the flagging fortunes of the islands that had once been the crown jewels of the British empire.However, within two decades the state had ceased all funding for West Indian elementary education and widespread support had turned to general hostility. Liberal Subjects explores this phenomenon from the perspective of policymakers, missionaries, free black communities, and the “native teachers” who were so central to both the utopian hopes for what elementary education might accomplish and the eventual backlash against the project. As it does so, it grapples with two questions of enduring importance to the study of education: what generates substantial enthusiasm and financial support for educational projects targeting a poor, non-white population — and what leads to disenchantment and retrenchment?
About Christopher Bischof
Chris Bischof is currently an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Richmond. His research has focused on elementary teachers in the nineteenth-century British world. In particular, his work connects the experiences of elementary teachers and their tireless production of new forms of knowledge about poor and working-class subjects, both at home and in the empire, to the making of modern forms of governance, the emergence of new welfare initiatives, and evolving attitudes towards the empire. His research has been supported by the Spencer Foundation/The National Academy of Education and the Mellon Foundation and has appeared in The English Historical Review, Past & Present, History of Education Quarterly, the Journal of Social History, and an edited collection with Edinburgh University Press.

Pin It on Pinterest