Author Biography

Alice Travers (PhD, history, University of Paris-Ouest Nanterre La Défense, 2009) is a researcher in Tibetan history at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), working at the East Asian Civilisations Research Centre (CRCAO) in Paris. She is also teaching Tibet history at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO, Paris). She specialized in social history and wrote her PhD dissertation on the aristocracy of Central Tibet (1895-1959). She is now researching the “intermediate classes” of Tibetan society within the project “Social History of Tibetan Society” (SHTS), as well as the history of the Ganden Phodrang army.


The idea that there was no other type of education in pre-1951 Tibet than the religious education delivered in monasteries is common, as the idea that education in private schools—when their existence is acknowledged—was the preserve of a small social elite. This socio-historical study pursues three main goals: first, to highlight and document the existence of a rather important network of private schools in the first half of the 20th century in Lhasa and in other areas of the Ganden Phodrang territory; second, to describe this system of private schools and the education it provided; last, to illuminate the relationship with government schools and the questioning of the Tibetan concept of “private education”, by analyzing the socio-professional profile of most teachers of these private schools and their mode of students’ recruitment. The paper is based on secondary literature, as well as on my own research through interviews in Tibet and India and the reading of autobiographical accounts published in Tibet and in India.


I would like to acknowledge the support of the ANR-DFG project “Social History of Tibetan Societies” (SHTS), which provided funding for fieldtrips in India and Tibet in 2012 and 2014. I am very grateful to the editors of this volume, Catherine Warner and Arik Moran, as well as to the two anonymous reviewers, for their insightful suggestions and comments on this paper. I would like to thank Tashi Tsering from the AMI Institute for his help in locating a number of papers of the secondary literature and in finding adequate scholars and witnesses on this subject in India. I am also very thankful to the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, the Pitt Rivers Museum and the British Museum, who kindly authorized the reproduction of the five photographs. Last, my sincere gratitude goes to Tibetans in India and Tibet, named or not, who accepted to share their knowledge and memories on private schools. All interpretations, analyses but also all remaining mistakes remain solely my own.

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