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.

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 KarakuĊŸ 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.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

What kind of History for Education? … and finding new friends in the Archive

By Peter Cunningham

I visited our Faculty archive for a conference we’re holding next year to mark the centenary of Democracy and Education. I wanted to explore when and how Dewey entered the syllabus, but it turned out his entrance was painfully slow. What caught my attention was a tortuous trajectory of course content, as generations over the first half-century of university-based ITET were introduced to ‘history and theory’.  Engaged for years in teacher education and CPD, over the last four years in Kazakhstan, I have a particular interest in the uses of history for critical thinking about pedagogy. Syllabuses found in the archive stirred my passion for good history with professional relevance, challenging historical imagination to understand why they were delivered and how they were received.  J.H.Higginson, J.B.Thomas and Wendy Robinson have been here before, but the territory’s ripe for re-visiting.

What paradigm shifts, what contingencies, negotiations and compromises, move from this in 1892 … 

 … to this in 1919 …   

… and to this in 1948?

To these trains of thought was added the surprise and pleasure of meeting unexpected friends. Unsurprising was the pre-eminent J.W. Adamson, communiting from King's College London to teach history and advise on education courses generally. But in the archive I met names unknown to me, names not normally linked with the history of education.

Albert Cock, philosopher and writer on Christian thought, was Professor of Education and Philosophy in the University College of Southampton 1916–39, and Principal, St John’s Diocesan Training College York, 1939–45.  He published widely on education, literature and the history of Christian thought.

Henrietta Dent, Principal of Cambridge Training College for Women 1933-45 was a first class History graduate from Girton who gained Distinction in her London University Diploma in Education. An accomplished linguist with a powerful and lively mind, and an exceptionally good lecturer, she impressed on her students a sympathetic and imaginative approach in the classroom. She advocated dynamic pedagogy, seminars, tutorial groups and individual work, as better suited than routine lectures to the needs of trainees.

Albert Victor Murray was Professor of Education at Hull 1933-45, President of the Training Colleges Association 1940–42, and President of Cheshunt Coll., Cambridge, 1945–59. He travelled and taught in Africa, wrote on religious education in schools, on natural religion, Christian theology and church history. 

The Cambridge Teachers’ Certificate was widely offered throughout Great Britain and Ireland. Between 1887 and 1935, 41 Training Colleges from Aberystwyth and Bangor to Waterford and Wantage were recognized by the Cambridge Syndicate, including  8 in London, 2 in Edinburgh and 3 in Dublin, though meantime some such as Bristol and Reading gaining independent university status. 
Through the interwar years however, periodic rumblings from the colleges led to debate and modification of the syllabus.  In 1922 the historical period was updated from 1400-1660 to the 19th century, and the following year was confined English education. In 1928 complaints about the lack of options and calls to reduce the period still further to 1860-1902 were made.

Four years later, on 6 January 1934, Harriet Dent, called a meeting in London at which 10 colleges were represented. Her objections were that History loomed too large, occupying a fourth of the whole education exam, and that shortening the period had necessitated much greater attention to detail, making it more difficult for students to appreciate the general historical background. She proposed that the ‘Principles of Education’ Paper could include historical reference, that alternatives to the History paper should be permitted, and that independent historical work could be considered for assessment.

Albert Cock from Southampton, and J.W.Adamson, were asked to observe and report to the Cambridge Syndicate on the 1934 meeting. Cock recorded general agreement that the period should be extended back to 1800, and especially that more modern reference beyond 1902 should be allowed. The heavy burden of detailed knowledge demanded was also criticised. One concrete suggestion was for an optional section entitled ‘Rousseau to Dewey’, the greater classics of education in the last 150 years.  There was no suggestion that history of education was not important and one or two spoke with great emphasis on its necessity and value. Cock reports approvingly on Miss Dent’s proactive and reflective representation of the discontents widely felt by history teachers in training colleges.  (We should note that the Cambridge Teachers’ Certificate was a prestige qualification acquired at considerable expense to the colleges and their students, a source of income that kept the Cambridge UDE afloat!) 

I’ll leave the last word to Victor Murray. On the outbreak of war, Hull University College’s education department was evacuated to Cambridge, so he was close at hand. On retiring as examiner in 1941 repeated his conviction that the History of Education should be studied as part of social history. He was convinced that many lecturers in the colleges failed to observe ‘this very salutary rule’ and dealt with education in far too great isolation. 

There is no value, educational or practical, in candidates knowing, as many often do know, the precise amounts of attendance under the Revised Code or the recommendations of some dead and gone Commission, and insistence on such matters has gone far to bring this subject into disrepute among the Training Colleges and Departments.


J.W.Adamson (1920) A guide to the history of education. (Helps for students of history) London
J.W.Adamson (1930) English Education, 1789–1902  (Cambridge, CUP)
J.B.Thomas (1979) ‘The Curriculum of a Day Training College: The logbooks of J.W.Adamson’, Journal of Educational Administration and History, 18, 2, 24-33
J.H.Higginson (1980) ‘Establishing a history of education course: the work of Professor Michael Sadler 1903-1911’, History of Education, 9, 3, 245-255
Wendy Robinson (2003) Pupil Teachers and their Professional Training (Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen)