News and events


photo of lecturer Tamson Pietsch

HistGeogUni lecture 2019

About this event

The HistGeogUni Lecture 2019 will be given by Dr Tamson Pietsch (University of Technology Sydney).

This is the third Annual Lecture of HistGeogUni - A Global Research Network on the Historical Geographies of the University.

How to Know the World? The Floating University in the Age of American Empire
In September 1926, 500 American university students left New York on the Floating University. The brainchild of New York University’s Professor of Psychology, James E. Lough, it was billed as an eight-month ‘educational cruise around the world’ that would stop at forty-seven ports and pay visits to foreign dignitaries including the King of Siam, the Sultan of Jodhpur, Mussolini and the Pope.

The venture promised a ‘world education’ to students: a ‘college year of educational travel and systematic study to develop an interest in foreign affairs, to train students to think in world terms, and to strengthen international understanding and goodwill.’

Professor Lough’s ‘pedagogical experiment’ had strong intellectual foundations in the new psychology and new educational movements pioneered in the United States by William James and John Dewey, and it answered a rapidly growing demand for international student travel.

Despite their differing pedagogical approaches, Professor Lough and his detractors in the United States were entangled in the politics of America’s emerging global power, and what the students learnt on the voyage was deeply inflected by its expanding imperial geographies.

The Floating University sailed along the contours of American commercial, cultural, and military power in the Pacific, the Philippines, and Belgium. The students rode on the coattails of older European empires, the governors of which were wary of the young Americans, even as they welcomed them in Algeria, Hong Kong, and Java.

But, every now and then, other ways of knowing forced themselves onto the ship. What did rising Japanese industrial power mean? Why did the King of Siam host the students in his palace? Was US rule in the Philippines justified? Why did the Floating University keep losing the sporting competitions with local university teams?

This lecture takes up these questions as part of a wider exploration of American universities' claims to authority over knowledge of the world in the interwar period.

Visit the event website for further details

Contact and booking details

Heike Jons
Telephone number
Email address
Booking required?