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‘One Race, and a National Spirit’: Education, Identity, and the Rise of the African Victorian Middle Class, 1850-1920 

In 1864 Samuel Crowther became the first African Anglican Bishop of West Africa. In that same year he received a Doctorate of Divinity from Oxford University. Prior to Crowther, there were no black Anglican Bishops of West Africa, and prior to the nineteenth century Africans could seldom hope to attain a university education in Britain. However, during the nineteenth century, Britain saw a noticeable increase in college and university-educated West Africans (mainly from Nigeria, Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and The Gambia) which in turn produced a burgeoning middle-class African intelligentsia involved in professions such as medicine, journalism, law, business, politics and divinity. 

 

With this in mind, the aim of this project will be to investigate the social and cultural rise of British-educated West Africans between 1850 and 1920, what I call the emergence of an ‘African Victorian middle class’ intelligentsia. Focusing on the themes of education, identity, empire, and innovation, this project will address the central question of how living between two disparate cultures (African and British) compelled British-educated West Africans to reckon with, and ultimately, forge this new identity. This project will consider the hypotheses that 1) African Victorian middle-class identity was not static, but rather, a constantly shifting felt reality which had to be balanced against the hegemonic constraints of imperialism; and 2) African Victorian middle-class identity was a form of African social innovation that shaped - and continues to shape - both African-British national identity and ‘Black British’ culture.