Educational Oases in the Desert

The Alliance Israélite Universelle's Girls' Schools in Ottoman Iraq, 1895-1915

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Jonathan Sciarcon
  • Albany, NY: 
    State University of New York Press
    , August
     226 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.
Review coming soon!

Review by Corinne Blake forthcoming.


A history of the French schools that pioneered female education in Ottoman Iraq’s Jewish communities.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU), a Paris-based Jewish organization, founded dozens of primary schools throughout the Middle East. Many were the first formal educational institutions for local Jewish children. In addition to providing secular education, the schools attempted to change local customs and “regenerate” or “uplift” communities. Educational Oases in the Desertexplores the largely forgotten history of the AIU’s schools for girls in Ottoman Iraq. Drawing on extensive archival research, Jonathan Sciarcon argues that teachers viewed female education through a gendered lens linked to their understanding of an ideal modern society. As the primary educators of children, women were seen as society’s key agents of socialization. The AIU thus concluded that its boys’ schools would never succeed in creating polished, westernized men so long as women remained uneducated, leading to the creation of schools for girls. Sciarcon shows how headmistresses acted not just as educators but also as models of modernity, trying to impart new moral and aesthetic norms onto students.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jonathan Sciarcon is assistant professor of history and Judaic studies at the University of Denver.

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