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.

Monday, 12 December 2016

‘Sight, Sound and Text in the History of Education’ HES 2016

‘Sight, Sound and Text in the History of Education’ HES 2016 

By Maria Williams

Maria is a doctoral student at UCL Institute of Education under the supervision of Professor Gary McCulloch. Prior to commencing my research she worked in London comprehensive schools for thirty years.

‘Sight, Sound and Text in the History of Education’ was the theme of the conference organised jointly by the UK and Australian & New Zealand History of Education Societies, held over the weekend of November 18-20, 2016 at the Abbey Hotel, Malvern, Worcestershire.  Stephen, Siân and Jodie organised a fantastic conference in a location with magnificent views.
The panel papers and keynote lectures which addressed the conference theme in relation to community or national identity and the arts were really relevant to my doctoral research which focuses on the educational practice of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini and her sisters 1880-1918 with Italian migrants.  Tom Woodin’s exploration of education and culture to engender a sense of belonging in the Co-operative movement and Susannah Wright’s paper showing the League of Nations Union’s particular mode of collective commemoration for Armistice Day prompted questions for me regarding the impact of Italian and Italian- American celebrations in Cabrini’s time.  At the panel on music education I also saw parallels with the Italian situation as I listened to Teresa O’Doherty’s on the impact of cultural and political nationalism on the teaching of music in Ireland during the first decades of Independence. Ross Purves addressed similar issues with regard to music provision relating to the ethnic background of pupils. This theme was a central strand of Ian Grosvenor’s keynote on Saturday evening which revisited his landmark 2007 publication, Assimilating Identities. His visual sources powerfully demonstrated the rich contribution of the ‘History of the Ordinary’ and education outside of schools to the field of History of Education. The need for further work in this field provides a challenge for me; one which I have been considering as an English historian researching Italian history. In the summer at ISCHE I also discussed the question in relation to writing Black History with three African- American historians in Chicago. I wonder how the overwhelmingly white membership of our own organisation impacts on our confidence to research and write Black History.
I contributed to the ‘Education and the Arts’ panel which was both transtemporal and transnational. Raymond McCluskey explored medieval insights about the arts which challenged some of my assumptions. Stephen Tomlinson’s paper demonstrated Comenius’ innovative use of illustrations in the seventeenth century and Luana Salvarani continued the theme of innovative pedagogy exploring Jesuit theatre in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. In my paper I explored what Cabrini referred to as ‘ornamental competences’ demonstrating the opportunities these provided for women’s agency. My findings support those of Margaret Nash and Ann Marie Valdes challenging more assumptions.

I learnt a great deal more over meals and coffee. Like many colleagues I visited the adjacent Priory Church where I realised that our conference was continuing an educational tradition established on the site almost a thousand years before by migrants from continental Europe. This was my third annual conference. As a post-graduate researcher I have really benefited and recommend them to others.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

What is YOUR story?

by Jonathan Doney

In a recent editorial in History of Education Researcher (May 2016), Rob Freathy and I examined the life of Lord Asa Briggs, focusing on his lesser known role as a code-breaker at Bletchley Park, and as a contributor to first ever edition of The History of Education. For me, this sparked an interest, and I have since managed to visit Bletchley, and have read more about Brigg’s time there in his autobiographical work Secret Days: Code Breaking at Bletchley Park (London: Frontline Books, 2011). There is something about people’s own stories and history that is gripping…

Inside Hut 6 at Bletchley Park, Bletchley, England. Photo by Jonathan Doney
In 2017 we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the History of Education Society. To mark this occasion, we are planning a ‘Special Edition’ of the History of Education Researcher journal for publication in May 2017. We plan to publish a collection featuring a number of short, autobiographical, and personal reflections on the past, present and future of the Society and on the research field of history of education more generally. We envisage a range of contributions, with authors writing brief responses to a series of questions; a sort of written interview. These contributions can be written informally, but we hope they will stimulate curiosity and interest, and provoke thought and dialogue.

We’d like to know what first ignited an interest in the history of education; which books on history and/or the history of education specifically have been the most influential in your career; what was your greatest breakthrough moment in research; what was the biggest challenge you faced, and how did you overcome it; what experiences have you of teaching the history of education and what approaches consistently worked well. We’d also like to think about the kind of sources you have worked with, trying to understand what are the joys and sorrows associated with them. Finally, we might ask what advice you would give a budding historian of education starting out in their career today.

We hope to create a resource that not only contributes to the 50th anniversary celebrations, but also provides future historians of the Society and the academic field with a rich and revealing primary source. We also believe that undergraduate, postgraduate and early-career researchers might find it interesting to learn more about others within the community of historians of education, particularly how they explain their methodological orientations; describe their research processes and working assumptions; outline their approaches to teaching and learning; and perceive the nature and purpose of the learned society. In terms of the Society, we hope that appreciative appraisals, focusing on its benefits and successes, will implicitly and collectively articulate a desired future. Apart from any innate interest we might have in reading responses from colleagues in our field, the answers might also provide food for thought and set off a train of ideas that influence how we each individually study or teach the history of education.

If you would like to contribute to the planned Special Issue, please get in touch, with me in the first instance (, and I will send further details. We hope to create a resource that not only contributes to the 50th anniversary celebrations, but also provides future historians of the Society with a rich and revealing primary source.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Taking seriously what happens in the moment: rethinking the role of museums in the lives of young children

Taking seriously what happens in the moment: rethinking the role of museums in the lives of young children
Dr Abigail Hackett

The grand room is dominated by a huge dining table. The dining table is laid with a full dinner service, covered with a glass dome so people cannot actually touch it. There are big windows, fireplace and portraits in this room. In the dining room, Izzy and Anna ran round and round the dining room table – faster and faster they ran in circles, giggling and maintaining eye contact with each other. They were getting a little manic and I tried to calm them down.
Hackett, 2012, p.7

In this post I want to think about the role of museums in children’s lives and learning. In particular, how is museum learning similar to and different from learning in school, or in any other sort of place?

In my ethnographic research, family visits to museums with toddlers were dominated by movement, which I have argued “must not be dismissed as the ‘noise’ that happens in between focussed learning and engagement in a museum (or any other environment) but as a central aspect” (Hackett, 2014, p.20). Practices such as banging a drum or pressing a button to play music and dancing around the gallery seemed important to the children, and uniquely inspired by the spaces and objects in the museum, yet difficult to categorise as ‘learning’ in a traditional sense.

Other scholars who have looked at the experiences of young children visiting museums have come to similar conclusions. For example, Weier and Piscetelli (2003) have described young children’s museum visiting as “hot and sweaty learning”, Dicks has written about the social and sensory nature of children visiting a science centre, and Kirk (2014) emphasised the fast embodied way with which children navigated around a museum.

Rethinking museum learning

So are we to conclude that children of this age are simply too young to visit a museum ‘properly’ or to learn anything meaningful from the experience? Rather, I would argue that such observations should encourage us to think differently about what museum learning does or could look like, and to rethink the role of museums in children’s learning.

Airey (1980) charts the development of museum education since the 1960s, highlighting its original focus on partnership working with schools and Local Education Authorities. Early museum educators prioritised encouraging schools to visit museums, loaning objects to schools, and children’s close observation of museum objects to facilitate learning about, for example, history and science. Overall museum education was positioned in a supporting role to school learning, and the purpose of children’s museum visits was projected into their future adult lives; both in terms of the history and science knowledge they needed to acquire and in terms of children appreciating the importance of museums and museum objects. 

I have found Rautio’s (2014) writing about children’s intra-action with objects helpful for thinking about alternative ways of conceptualising the potential role of museums in children’s lives. Rautio writes about the need to take seriously what children do, even if it seems pointless or defies adult explanation. In particular, Rautio urges us to take seriously what happens in the moment. She contrasts this focus on the moment with traditional “educational research which tends to overlook the momentary in favour of learning for the future.” (ibid, p.4). So, in the vignette with which I began this post, we would need to take seriously the running around the table, even though it might seem unproductive, disruptive and not a good example of purposeful learning. (Obviously the caveat here is that museums must prioritise the safety of both their collections and other visitors – running round a table is not always safe or appropriate!)

Some new directions for thinking about the purpose of young children in museums

Taking seriously what happens in moments like running round a table or dancing in a gallery, leads me to ask, rather than seeing museums in a supporting role to school learning (or in the case of younger children, school readiness), could they offer something completely different?

The space of a museum is unlike anything else young children are likely to experience. It is bigger than a house. It is indoors and public, yet often seen by families as safer than other large spaces (a shopping centre for example), perhaps allowing children more scope to explore independently.  Young children discover such spaces by moving through them, encountering colours, textures, objects, dark enclosed spaces or bright expansive spaces. Perhaps this experience of space itself could be a starting point for thinking about the role of museums in children’s lives, and the potential for a different kind of learning experience?

Additionally, much of what young children experience in museums seems to exist in between fantasy and real life. Taxidermy is a good example of this. I suspect am I not the only one with very clear childhood memories of standing in front of large stuffed animals, holding my breath and waiting to see whether they were going to move! Both the spaces and things in museums can offer children the chance to play and interact in ways that are distinct from anywhere else, exploring notions of fear and reality.

As research on museum education increasingly draws attention to the sensory nature of museum visiting, and the physical, wellbeing and emotional benefits of these sensory experiences, it is an exciting time for thinking about the role museums do or could play in young children’s embodied, playful exploration of their worlds.

Abigail Hackett is an independent researcher and consultant. She blogs at


Airey, V. (1980) History of Museum Education in the United Kingdom. The Past Twenty Years. Journal of Education in Museums, 1, 10-15.

Dicks, B. (2013) Interacting with….what? Exploring children’s social and sensory practices in a science discovery centre, Ethnography and Education 9 (3), 301-322.

Hackett, A. (2012) Running and learning in the museum: a study of young children’s behaviour in the museum, and their parents’ discursive positioning of that behaviour. Childhoods Today, 6 (1).

Hackett, A. (2014) Zigging and zooming all over the place: young children's meaning making and movement in the museum. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 14 (1), 5-27.

Kirk, E. (2014) Crystal Teeth and Skeleton Eggs: Snapshots of Young Children’s Experiences in a Natural History Museum. Unpublished thesis.

Rautio, P. (2014) Mingling and imitating in producing spaces for knowing and being: Insights from a Finnish study of child matter intra-action, Childhood 21 (4), 461-474.

Weier, K. and Piscitelli, B., (2003) Hot and sweaty in the museum: Young children learning about nature, culture and science. Journal for Education in Museums, 24, 19–23.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

What should the new History of Education Society websitelook like?

The History of Education Society’s website is being revamped to celebrate the Society’s 50th birthday in 2017. How do you want it to look? As one of the Society’s Peter Gosden Fellows, I’m looking for ideas and suggestions from current and prospective members about the new site by the end of April. If you have any thoughts on the questions below, please do get in touch with me at


·         To provide information about the Society’s aims, membership, publications, conferences, awards, prizes and bibliographical resources
·         To promote the field more generally
·         To be the first point of call for researchers in the history of education, including undergraduate and postgraduate students
·         To facilitate the development of a community of scholars with a shared interest

Are there any other aims? What is the most important function of the site?


·         Current members
·         Prospective members
·         Researchers and students in related fields

Do you think the website should be used to try to attract a more diverse audience- such as historians across the board, schools, media, public? And if so, how?


Do you have any photographs of conferences or other History of Education Society events we can use for the new website?

Overall impression

What do you like and dislike about the existing site, and similar sites?