Every semester, I’m reminded about how little students actually know or understand about the history of colonial conquests. When asked to write about their understanding of colonialism, over half the class refers in some way or another to the early history of the U.S. and the 13 colonies. In the class I teach, we discuss colonialism, along with the social construction of the nation-state, in the context of learning about the origins of capitalism and advent of modernity. Luckily, I have found some good supplementary readings that give students a solid understanding of what these concepts mean and how they were crucial to the development of capitalism. Although this helps students conceptually understand the importance of colonialism, I don’t think they really grasp the extent to which colonialism was based on violence, terror, and exploitation or what it meant to live life under the rule of a colonial power.
Therefore, this semester, I’m attempting to give students an understanding of colonialism that is not only conceptual, but also grounded in the memories and experiences of people subjugated to colonial rule – the goal being to make this material become more alive. What better way to do this than to have students read an excerpt from a memoir, such as Albert Memmi’s Pillar of Salt, where he recounts his childhood experiences living in poverty in French Tunisia? Or an excerpt, from the much acclaimed, Things Fall Apart? I’m trying this out for the first time on Monday, so I’ll post an update of how well it was received and my observations on how helpful students found it to be. I’ll also post at this time another more interdisciplinary project that I use to teach about modernity, nation-state, colonialism, and development of capitalism.