Final Public Oral Exam: Elisa Sophie Prosperetti

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
November 19, 2019 - 1:00pm
Seminar Series: 
Final Public Oral Exam

Every Available Penny: Expectations, Education and Development in Postcolonial West Africa


Emmanuel Kreike, adviser
Jeremy Adelman
Jacob Dlamini
Abou Bamba, Gettysburg College
Michael Gomez, New York University


Between 1960 and 1980, the growth rate of student enrollment in public primary and secondary schools in Africa outpaced that of any other world region. “Nowhere else,” observed a World Bank economist, “has a formal education system been created on so broad a scale in so short a time.” This dissertation, titled Every Available Penny: Expectations, Education and Development in Postcolonial West Africa, is the first historical study to examine the origins and implementation of Africa’s massive project of public schooling. Focusing on Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, Every Available Penny analyzes two distinct postcolonial contexts—one in the Anglo-Atlantic world, the other in the Francophone sphere. Part I traces how the expectations of new citizens, the politics of anti-colonial activists, and emerging ideas of human capital theory among Western economists dovetailed to produce an educational boom that defined the early independence era in West Africa. Part II explores the unexpected consequences of schooling’s rapid expansion for students, teachers, and policymakers, highlighting the disjuncture between the education-for-development ideology and its lived experience.

Every Available Penny makes two overarching arguments. First, that school-going and sovereignty were intimately linked for ordinary people: independence took on meaning through newfound access to education. Second, that public education—in terms of both material and ideological investment—was West Africa’s most important development project. Considering education as a topic of development history, rather than a field apart, accounts for the urgency of schooling’s expansion in the eyes of regular people as well as elites. It also allows us to understand how local histories shaped not just individual development initiatives, but the very paradigms that framed them. In this way, Every Available Penny foregrounds the African dimensions of a global story: the spread and then retrenchment of public education during the twentieth century.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam in the History Graduate Student Lounge: 105 Dickinson Hall.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

20th Century
21st Century