The History of Education Society seeks to further the study of the history of education by providing opportunities for discussion among those engaged in its study and teaching.

In this blog you'll find the latest news on research, events and literature in the history of education.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

It was not meant to be like this: The Great War and an English public school

One hundred years ago, in December 1915, Harry McKenzie resigned as Headmaster of Uppingham School. McKenzie was approaching his sixty-fourth birthday when the Great War began and, under the terms of his appointment, he had three more years to run. Now, however, the stresses of leading a school in wartime had taken their toll. So too did the strain from the constant news of the deaths of his Old Boys from three schools – for he had been headmaster at Lancing College and Durham School before coming to Uppingham. Matters came to a head when his own son, also called Harry, left Uppingham in July 1915 to enlist with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. McKenzie’s health broke soon after the school’s return in September; he informed the trustees that he wished to resign at the end of term. He did. It was not meant to be like this.

Mr & Mrs McKenzie with Harry

On 27 April 1914 The Times published a piece from its correspondent in Tokyo under the headline, 'Japanese Precepts for Boys'.  McKenzie spotted it during the Easter holiday and he used the contents in his Speech Day address on Saturday 11 July. The article referred to the late General Nogi, a hero of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 and well-known in Britain. On retirement from the army he had been appointed President of the Gakushūin, a school for sons of noble families, and in 1912 he gave the boys his fourteen precepts. The report on McKenzie’s speech suggests that he used some precepts for comic effect and that the audience greeted each with laughter. Then McKenzie changed to a serious tone to close with the message he wanted his boys to remember. It was the final precept: 'Be a man useful to your country. Whoever cannot be so is better dead.'

News of Nogi’s death had been published in The Times on 14 September 1912. He had committed an elaborate ceremonial suicide to coincide with the funeral of Mutsuhito, the Japanese Emperor. McKenzie and many in his audience would have known that Nogi’s actions were in accordance with the Bushidō code of the Samurai: a warrior following his master in death. McKenzie’s commendation of Nogi’s final precept was an endorsement of its European equivalent, the Homeric code of honour, and of its legacy, the public-school ideal of manliness. No-one at that Speech Day could have known that this ideal would soon be put to the test, even though the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in distant Sarajevo a fortnight earlier had already set the course that would lead to the Great War. It was not meant to be like this.

Brittain, Leighton & Richardson at Uppingham, 1914

Wednesday 29 July was the last day at school for 69 of the 430 boys who had heard their headmaster’s valediction. All were McKenzie’s boys, joining Uppingham during his headmastership. They were a successful year-group: fourteen boys had secured places at Oxford and Cambridge, thirteen served as prefects, and twelve won colours in sport. Most of the 69 took part in Speech Day’s ceremonial parade and marched before the inspecting eye of General Lord Luck.

Uppingham Cadet Corps, 1918

School was now over. Members of the cadet corps set off for the annual camp near Aldershot on Tuesday 28 July, expecting to be there until Thursday 6 August. Events across Europe, however, had unfolded quickly in the wake of the assassination and war suddenly seemed likely. The camp was disbanded on Monday 3 August to make way for reservists recalled to the colours; the boys went home. War was declared the following day.

All but two of the 69 served in the armed forces during the Great War. Nearly all joined the Army, most were officers. Eighteen were commended for gallantry. The first of the cohort died on 22 May 1915. Three more were killed that year; another six in 1916; then nine in 1917; and finally three in 1918. Nearly a third were killed in action or died of their wounds – 22 of the 69. Edward Brittain, Roland Leighton and Victor Richardson were among the dead: their friendship formed the subject of Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth. It was not meant to be like this.

Brittain on the Lower School Roll of Honour

McKenzie’s life before Uppingham spanned the evolution of the ideal of manliness from its adoption by the public schools in the 1850s, through the muscular Christian years of the 1860s, onward to the hardiness of the 1870s and the games mania of the 1880s, through the imperial frenzy of the 1890s, and finally to the military manliness of the new century. McKenzie had been at some of the key schools at key times: as a boy at Guildford grammar school; two spells as a master at Wellington College; a period at H. H. Almond’s Loretto; and then two headmasterships. He imbibed the ideal as a boy and transmitted its practice as a man. He was a brisk, breezy, efficient, popular, decent and athletic man but he was neither scholarly nor intellectual. He was a thoroughly orthodox headmaster. It is unlikely that he ever questioned the ideal of manliness: he contributed nothing to its theory or development; he wrote nothing about it; he simply and unthinkingly conformed to conventional public-school practice. But by 1915 he must have had doubts. It was not meant to be like this.


 It was not meant to be like this – dis aliter visum. In an age when cultured men and scholarly boys expressed their thoughts through classical tags, this phrase would surely have come to mind – whether recalled from Virgil’s Aeneid or remembered as the title of a poem by Robert Browning. They would also recognise the poignancy of the original context. Dis aliter visum – literally: 'It seems otherwise to the gods' – comes from Aeneas’s account of the Homeric legend of the Sack of Troy (Aeneid 2, 428). Ripheus, the most just and faithful of all the Trojans, was killed defending his city against the Greeks after the gods decided to withdraw their protection: his righteousness went unrewarded.

Father, who lived to ninety-one, and son both survived the war. Extracted from the prologue of Malcolm Tozer’s The Ideal of Manliness: The legacy of Thring’s Uppingham (Sunnyrest Books, 2015) -

Friday, 27 November 2015

The 2015 History of Education Society Conference: a graduate researcher's view

By Catherine Sloan

Last week saw the History of Education Society (UK)’s 2015 conference. Hosted by Liverpool Hope University, we arrived at the beginning of a cold snap for three days of discussion of the themes of 'Science, Technologies and Material Culture in the History of Education’. The keynotes by Ruth Watts, Jonathan Reinarz and Claire Jones particularly emphasised how women have been marginalised both in contemporary perceptions and in the historiography of science education.  

I am currently sitting with my conference notebook which is packed with points to remember, and questions I wanted to take away with me. My own research looks at school magazines, so I went to a lot of panels relating to schooling. What struck me first of all was the range of situations where education takes place: in hospitals (Mary Clare Martin); in science and technology hobby clubs (Hilde Harmsen); from popular culture and TV (Craig Spence); and, in the case of First Peoples in Trinidad and Tobago, from the local community chief (Bailey-Ellis). There are tensions between this broad experience of learning, and the development of systems of examination and measuring - tensions exposed in papers by Cathy Burke on progressive education’s embrace of the sensory, and James Elwick’s paper on how the nineteenth-century Science and Arts Examinations' ‘payment by results’ led to a cheating scandal. 

I also like going to panels which lie outside my area of research, as there can be unexpected resonances with my own work. I saw many papers which shed new light on the research process. I was particularly interested, due to the focus on material culture, in the discussions of sources and archives. There was a astonishing array of sources: dermatological ‘moulages’  made of wax (Henrik Essler); botanical models made of wood (Lorna Stoddart); anatomical specimens pickled in alcohol (Kathryn Heintzman); and children’s work rescued from a skip (Craig Spence). Many papers showed the hard work and ingenuity needed to interpret or decode their sources: Diana Vidal spoke of spotting interesting nineteenth-century educational posters in the background of a photograph of a Brazilian classroom, and how she traced the journey of these posters from France; Frances Kelly revealed a fascinating photo archive at the University of Auckland, and described the challenges of dealing with unidentifiable, mysterious, or mislabelled sources; Tugba Karakuş spoke of learning Armenian in order to read documents; and Melisse Thomas Bailey-Ellis explained how trust and good relationships were key in gaining access to archives. I really enjoyed the fascinating biographies of the sources themselves, how they were made, collected, and survived, and the ingenuity and hard work needed to interpret them.

This was my first time attending the History of Education conference, but it didn’t feel like it: I attended the brilliant History of Education Summer School in Luxembourg in 2015, and a fellow attendee from the summer school was at the conference. Also, there was a large number of #twitterstorians there - although I was meeting many of them for the first time, many seemed like familiar faces! I am a second year D.Phil student, and this was my first time presenting at HES, but even the chair of my panel was someone I knew from Twitter. Twitter is a great way to get to know names and faces, particularly if you are a postgrad and new to the academic world. Also, following #HES2015 meant I could get a glimpse of papers I’d missed - and if you want to catch up, check out the Storify of the tweets at

Thanks are due to Heather Ellis for organising this great conference, and the History of Education Society for its support in enabling postgrad students to attend. 

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The 2015 History of Education Society conference: a view from the USA

By Nancy G Rosoff 


The 2015 HES conference offered a wide variety of papers that focused on the relation among science, technology, material culture, and education. As an overseas delegate, I am always struck by the cordiality of the conference, which welcomes researchers at all levels of their careers and where questions suggest helpful directions. At this year's conference, I was especially struck by the range of work offered by postgraduate students; the future of the field is in good hands. 
I've just looked back at my tweets from the conference, and some samples from them reveal the range of topics: science in domestic advice manuals, the hugely important scientific contributions of those outside the academy, visualising knowledge circulation, and using objects to teach about historical experiences. 
As always, the conference offers the opportunity to see friends made over the years and to meet new ones.  The importance of personal connections and networks cannot be overemphasised. And kudos to the amazing conference organiser Heather Ellis not only for her flawless efforts but also for presenting a fascinating paper. I'm already looking forward to next year.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Schools and British values: past and present

 By Susannah Wright

A year ago, on 27th November 2014, the British Department for Education launched its non-statutory guidance calling for schools to actively promote ‘Fundamental British Values’ as part of pupils’ Social, Moral, Spiritual and Cultural education in schools, the values in question being “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”. Promoting fundamental British values, the guidance continues, requires “challenging opinions or behaviours in school that are contrary to fundamental British values”. 

This attempt to promote British values in schools defines ‘Britishness’ and what the community of British citizens is through cultural and ideological means.  It goes beyond strictly legal categories of nation state citizenship through reference to a shared set of values, and the categories, people, narratives, symbols and actions that symbolise these values. Good Britons uphold these values, those who do not are somehow deemed not fully part of the national community, whatever their legal citizenship status. 

Educators in the past have similarly recognised that schools provide an unrivalled opportunity to reach a captive audience of young people who are obliged to be there for five days a week for much of the year, and to shape their ideas of what being British means. Many elementary school teaching and reading books of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (not centrally prescribed but designed to meet the needs of a government-defined curriculum) associated Britishness with democracy and fairness, and other markers such as Christianity and the Anglo Saxon Race,[1] though the long-standing assumption among historians that Britishness meant Englishness rather than anything else is now being questioned. ‘Britain’ in these texts included her vast Empire, but the way that Britishness was defined ensured that full British citizenship was denied to the heathens and the ‘backward races’ living in imperial territories overseas.

If this notion of the Briton as Anglo-Saxon and Christian had some purchase (not all historians think it did, Jonathan Rose notably questions how far these and other apparently hegemonic messages were taken on),[2] we could also suggest that citizenship in terms of values and cultural meaning was denied to agnostics or atheists within Great Britain itself. The non-believers who gathered together within secularist groups such as the Ethical Movement, London Positivist Society and the National Secular Society, therefore, defined British values as they should apply to pupils in schools in broader, more inclusive terms. 

The Moral Instruction League, for example, a pressure group formed in 1897, argued that a carefully designed syllabus of ‘non-theological’ moral lessons in schools would ensure that pupils acquired the knowledge, values and behaviours that they would need as future citizens of the British state. The League, for over 20 years, questioned the widespread assumption that this citizenship must rest on Christian foundations. Britain, the League suggested, and also the larger empire, contained many citizens who were not Christian, so a moral code which could appeal to people of any or no religious creed, rather than a Christian one, was the only just, fair and truly democratic foundation of ‘British’ values. League activists had themselves, as secularists, encountered a range of barriers including blocked employment opportunities and work duties, eviction from meeting premises, even violence in public places. They were fully aware of what defining British citizenship in purely Christian terms could mean for those who were British but not Christian. 

But was their moral code as universal as they hoped? Lessons on the theme of ‘democracy’, penned by League activists AJ Waldegrave and FJ Gould in their handbooks for teachers, advocate political participation for all and not just an elite, and better wages and living conditions for the poor. This was not the Whiggish story of the Magna Carta leading eventually to the constitution of parliament and to greater glory found in other texts of the period: Waldegrave and Gould did not ignore this story, but felt it was not enough. The potential for controversy was greatest when texts touched on religion and religious tolerance. Gould, in a lesson on ‘Differences of Opinion’ in his Children’s Book of Moral Lessons, suggested that atheists and adherents of all world religions should be ‘saluted’ alongside Christians – this lesson was singled out for vilification in the national and educational press. The good Briton, for Gould, would salute all these people, the good Briton, for his critics, would not. A common, unifying language of values could mask deeper ideological differences which could be revealed in the context of actual texts and lessons.[3]

Others have questioned whether it should be the place of schools to promote fundamental British value as the Department for Education suggests. My argument, on the basis of historical example, is that we should also ask how successfully they can do so. Firstly, identifying particular values as British means that as well as including those who supposedly uphold these values, those who do not can be left beyond the boundaries of the ‘imagined community’, as opposed to the strictly legal community, of British citizens. Secondly, the values identified as British - democracy, liberty, tolerance - all emerge as subject to very different definitions – perhaps an obvious point but a fundamental one if they are meant to serve a unifying function. And if not applicable to all Britons can any scheme of values to be taught in schools be fundamentally British?

[1] S. Heathorn, "Let Us Remember That We, Too, Are English": Constructions of Citizenship and National Identity in English Elementary School Reading Books, 1880-1914, Victorian Studies, 38:3, 1995, 395-427.
[2] J. Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class, 2nd edition, Newhaven and London: Yale University Press, 2010 especially pp.1-11.
[3] S. Wright, Our future citizens’: values in late nineteenth and early twentieth century moral instruction books’, History of Education and Children’s Literature, 4:1, 2009, 157-77.