UCL Institute of the Americas


Black Pedagogues and Resistance to the Segregation of 'Coloured People' in the Panama Canal Zone (1904-1954)

31 May 2017, 5:30 pm

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UCL Institute of the Americas, 51 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PN

Dr Rolando de la Guardia Wald (Oxford) | In 1903, the Republic of Panama signed the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty with the United States, an agreement to facilitate the construction of the Panama Canal. The contract stated that, in order to build, manage and protect the Canal, the United States would, perpetually, control a territory of 5 miles along each bank of the transoceanic route as if they were their 'sovereign'. This territory came to be known as the Panama Canal Zone (PCZ). Since 1904, U.S. authorities began to organise an education system for the PCZ. Soon segregation was imposed. Schools for 'white people' and others for 'people of colour' were established. These had different budgets, quality of infrastructure, and curricula.

One particularity of the system was the hiring of British or British-West Indian teachers. This practice ended when the Panama Canal authorities opted to hire teachers educated in the United States or normal schools for Black teachers of the PCZ. In spite of the objectives of reproducing social, cultural and economic functions of the 'coloured' people of the Canal Zone, these teachers were influenced by progressivism and posed challenges to the Panama Canal authorities. Simultaneously, progressivist scholars from North-American universities published studies of the situation of schools for 'coloured' students of the Panama Canal Zone. Both PCZ teachers and the University reports sustained the necessity to increase the budget and improve the quality of the infrastructure and diversification of courses.

This presentation will discuss a preliminary study of how progressivist ideas imported from the United States and Great Britain and its Caribbean colonies were received in the Panama Canal Zone. It will talk about the role of U.S. universities in the divulging of those ideas in Panama. It will also analyse how these ideas gave a philosophical foundation to the "passive resistance" of 'teachers of colour' to U.S. authorities.

Rolando de la Guardia Wald is currently a Visiting Researcher at the Latin American Centre of the University of Oxford. He has worked as a lecturer in history at the Florida State University campus in Panama and at Quality Leadership University - Panama. He is a founding member and spokesman of the recently established Asociación de Antropología e Historia de Panamá.

Rolando obtained a Bachelor of Arts in History and a Minor in Latin American Studies from the University of Notre Dame (Indiana, United States). Afterwards, he graduated from two postgraduate programmes at the University of Barcelona (Spain): a Master in International Relations, specialising in international organisations, and a Diploma of Advanced Studies in Latin American History. He received his Ph.D in History from University College London, after writing Panamanian Intellectuals and the Invention of a Peaceful Nation (1878-1931), a thesis on the connection between ideas and the different strategies for building national and transnational identities. His main research interests are the history of internationalism, of education, of the political and cultural representations of emotions in Latin America. At the Latin American Centre, he is studying the political, cultural and intellectual impact and legacies of the French attempt to build at canal through Panama (1880-1903).

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