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  • Educating a City's Children:British Immigrants and Primary Education in Buenos Aires (1820-1880)
  • Alina Silveira (bio)

Argentina, and Buenos Aires in particular, was a preferred South American destination for great numbers of European immigrants who crossed the Atlantic beginning in the late nineteenth century in search of new opportunities. Most Latin American governments, from the early days of their nations' independence, sought to attract European workers. These newly founded countries considered immigration an essential element for creating a society that would become economically, politically, and socially modern. They hoped to attract mainly foreigners from Northern Europe, among them the British, whom they considered to have superior labor skills and to be accustomed to the habits of order and work the new nation required.1

Despite the importance politicians and intellectuals of the period granted northern Europeans overall, this group has been ignored by the great majority of Latin American historians. The main studies have focused on the larger-scale influx of Spanish and Italians during the period of massive European immigration (1880-1914). Meanwhile, the immigration of British citizens—English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish—to Latin America has scarcely been researched and very little is known about the educational institutions they established, the role those schools played in immigrant communities, and the place of the schools in native society.2 [End Page 33]

The main impetus for study of these schools among historians has been the attempt to understand the construction of a national identity in nascent Latin American countries between the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth.3 However, this issue was not at the forefront during the first decades of the nineteenth century when the new Latin American states were struggling for their independence and structure. This is not to say that the education of the new nations' children was not a concern during the first half of the nineteenth century. Since the advent of the Enlightenment in Hispanic America in the second half of the eighteenth century, education had come to be considered as a means through which the people—"barbarous, degenerate and ignorant"—could be "illuminated and saved from savagery."4 In this manner, the children would become hardworking, responsible adults and good republicans or monarchists (according to the case).5 However, the lack of resources and qualified teachers, the wars of independence, and the struggles for civil rights led to the failure of state-run educational projects during the first half of the nineteenth century. A comprehensive educational system would be realized only after these nations had achieved a higher degree of centralization and structure, which allowed them to establish a homogenous educational system that could permeate society and create a national identity. Up to that time, the field of education, decentralized and heterogeneous, remained open to a range of educational [End Page 34] proposals that came from many sides, from the Catholic Church to the Protestant churches, from private initiatives to public efforts, and from native schools to foreign schools. Through studying British schools in Buenos Aires, in their various forms, this article aims to analyze the overall educational system immediately following independence and before the consolidation of national identities.

In early studies of the region, scholars looked at the schools of various ethnic immigrant groups to observe how the schools guided the new arrivals and their children in integrating themselves into their new society. The most researched period was that of the massive migrations, and the focus was on the groups with the greatest numbers of migrants.6 Scholars in the fields of history of religion and sociology of religion have studied foreign schools, in particular Protestant schools. Many Protestant churches in Latin America developed their own schools, and what distinguished them was their effort to guarantee a level of instruction that would afford the faithful direct access to the Bible—unlike Catholics, Protestants required a congregation that could read.7 Although these studies have brought to light important factors in the development of education during the final years of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, they say nothing about schools founded by Protestant teachers that were not church-dependent. Further, although...


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