The University of London debates

[I have returned to America, and now add to my research work by preparing a paper I’m presenting in November, on the educational debates in the Victorian periodical press.]

While today we think of universities as places where there is teaching and classes, this was not true for the University of London, founded in 1836.

Later called by Dickens “The People’s University”, the University of London provided the opportunity to obtain a degree for those who couldn’t afford Oxbridge residential education, or who weren’t Anglican and thus couldn’t attend Oxford or Cambridge (or, later, Durham). There were no teaching professors – it was strictly an examining body. Yes, it’s how H. G. Wells got his degree, studying on his own until he passed the exams: Matriculation, Intermediate, Bachelors.

Although the U of L website is pretty sketchy on its history, in 2008 they published The People’s University 1858-2008, which has lots of information. It helps provide context for the arguments about the university, in which Wells participated, and is the source for much of the factual information that follows here.

By 1858, the University of London had over 50 colleges affiliated with it, sending students to take examinations, some conferring their own degrees. By 1860, a Bachelor of Science was offered. By 1878, women were routinely admitted for the degree (not just to take preliminary exams).

Beginning in 1887, there were calls for the University of London to establish itself as a teaching university as well as an examining board.  The two original colleges, King’s College London (Anglican) and University College London, considered leaving the U of L to form their own university (called Albert University), which would combine teaching with exams. Their petition to the government for a new charter along these lines was unsuccessful, but unleashed two decades of debate, in which Wells was a vociferous participant.

At stake was everything: the secular focus of the university, the ability of those throughout Britain and the Empire to work for a degree, and the resulting democratization of higher education. The debate also took place at a time when science was establishing itself in the college curricula, often without proper funding or support (another of Wells’ criticisms). There were parties, however, who felt that perhaps there should be two universities in London, one residential and similar to Oxbridge, and the other examining only and based on external students.

Several commissions provided the focus for these questions, including the Selbourne Commission of 1889, and the Gresham Commission which ended in 1894. It was the report of the latter that divided the consideration into Internal students, who would be residential at one of the colleges, and External (non-collegiate) students, who would study elsewhere and just take the exams.

Naturally, any measures that privileged Internal residential students could adversely impact External non-collegiate students, so this was a concern during the major debates about reforming the university. Should, for the sake of academic integrity, a distinction then be made between the degrees of Internal and External students? Because the university had been founded on External students (before they were called that), there was already extensive support in place, including examination centers throughout the empire and in Britain outside London. Would these degrees be considered lesser than those conferred upon residential students, who might have the time and money to spend three years or so in London or at an affiliated college, doing nothing but studying?

By this time, Wells had already earned his B.Sc. through external study that had occupied his evening hours over a number of years. He was acutely sensitive to the opportunity that had been afforded him as a member of the lower-middle class. The degree had enabled him to increase his salary at the University Correspondence College, enough so he could afford to marry and start his own household.

In general, the University presented arguments to the government in favor of no distinction.

In 1898, the University of London Act combined King’s and University colleges, the London School of Economics, and several medical and other colleges, together as a teaching university. Although recommendations were made to close examination centers in colonies that had access to a university, it was made clear in the Act that there was to be no distinction between degrees earned by Internal and External students. Administration was divided between an Academic Council run by professors, and an External Council run by graduates. But the degree was not divided, and the opportunity remains to this day, through distance education, to earn a degree from U of L wherever the student may reside.

It is funny to think that, back in the 1990s and early noughts, I unknowingly participated in a repeat of the Gresham Scheme arguments. In the early days of online learning, there were similar efforts to make a distinction (on transcripts and in degrees) between in-person classes and online (distance learning) classes. I opposed these, as Wells would have. The price of this was accepting that if there was no distinction, those of us teaching online should have the same enrollment limits as in a classroom (for History, that’s 40 students per class). While not the best arrangement (we have known throughout the impossibility of individual attention in classes this large), it solidified the “no distinction” agreement. Just as in Victorian times, this has allowed students, particularly those from less advantaged circumstances, to work toward a college credential with no indication that they achieved it any differently than at a residential college.

Orders for The British Library

If all goes well, I’ll be returning to England in a few weeks (yay!), to try to finish the research for what I’m calling “Book 1”.

I need quite a few things from the British Library, which as a Reader with a card, I can order online in advance. About half of what I need has a 48-hour delivery time. When you click on the link to order, the system tells you that you are limited to 10 “items” per day, and that consecutive “issues” count as one item.

So I tried to start with the journal The University Correspondent. I need several articles in several different volumes (years) 1891-1893. But what constitutes an “issue”? The online catalog doesn’t say how many issues are in a volume, but I’m pretty sure it’s too many to make all three years one “item”. So I wrote to the helpful people at the Library, who emailed back next day to tell me that since this journal’s volumes are half a year, the “issues” would be six for January-June, and six more for July-December, in each volume. So that’s six “items”, even though I only need a few short articles from specific issues.

I’ve ended up ordering 20 items from the British Library, so they must be parceled over two days.

I know the drill. First through security with all the tourists coming to see the exhibitions, then downstairs to the lockers. Put my Readers Card, passport, papers, notebook, mobile phone, pencil, laptop, cord, and wallet in the clear plastic bag. Everything else in the purse. Find a locker where I can actually turn the lock (about half the lockers have their lock stuck closed although the door hangs open). Put my purse and water bottle in, then close and latch the door. Remember to put my code in twice, not once (last time I had to get a guard to open my locker at the end of the day). Upstairs to Humanities 1 Reading Room. Show plastic bag and Readers Card to guards. Find a table first, put something there to hold it (this is the tough part – what to leave on the table?), note the number of the table in the notebook, then go to the desk, show my card, say my name, tell them my table number, and chew off my nails as I wait to see whether what I ordered is actually there (that runs about 80% after three previous visits).

This trip, though, I have a backup plan. I will stay in London first, and go to the Library my first two days there (jet-lag city). Then later in the trip I’ll stay at Wetherby, near the Boston Spa location of the British Library. And I’ll have a few days in between, so I can request things that have a 48 hour tag. That gives me two chances to get everything I need.

Working in the reading rooms is both good and bad. Good is that there is plenty of space to work, a free scanning machine to scan pages and email yourself the scans, and helpful people at the desks. Bad is that you can’t take in water or food, so it’s easy to get hungry and thirsty. The chairs are just chairs, not comfortable. It’s so much trouble to exit the building and return (replay the paragraph above with the bag and lockers) that the tendency is to do whatever you can to stay till you’re done. This includes eating at the Library, where the nicest place to eat is quite expensive, and the least expensive place has nowhere to sit. On many days I’ve been there, every available desk or chair that isn’t in a reading room is occupied.

This time I’ll also need some items on microfilm, from the Pall Mall Gazette. I shouldn’t need them. The library has digitized these, and one can access them free on machines in the Newsroom, which I have done, but several words in the articles could not be seen clearly on the screen or the resulting printout. Plus, printing is a difficult process that involves going to the Newsroom desk, showing your card, getting into the computer system to access the card settings, getting help because it never works the first time, taking out a credit card to add money to the reader card, then going back to the printer to insert the card and print one page at a time after carefully lining things up on the difficult-to-use reading machine. I even paid £12.95 in March for a month’s access to British Newspaper Archive, so I could see if they had a better copy – it was a bit better but I’m still missing words (I’m transcribing, so missed words are important).

It’s the sort of thing one doesn’t so much look forward to doing, as to being done. But heck, I don’t care, because I’ll be in England, my favorite place. And when I’m done starving and getting dehydrated and stiff in the reading room, I’ll have days of train rides and unpredictable weather that everyone talks about. I’ll have a few days of international accents all around me, followed by more days of English accents all around me. I’ll be there for the European Parliament elections, because the UK can’t do anything politically important without me there. I’ll go to Evensong and art galleries and see my friend Jenny. And when I return to teach my summer classes, I’ll finish the book somehow and do the proposal, and move on to more work with Mr. Wells.

Houses without plaques

There are many plaques around boasting a building’s association with H. G. Wells. The seventeen noted here include ones I’ve seen personally (Midhurst, Chiltern Court in London), and the site even includes the very strange sign on the pub in Petersfield, where I can’t determine when Wells would have “regularly dined and wrote here”. Some of the plaques, though, aren’t on the Wells page, so it’s more than seventeen.

For example, Woking. I did try to get to the house in Woking when I was between trains, but I was unable to lug my suitcase up the road a sufficient distance to get to 141 Maybury Road, where Wells and Amy moved in May 1895 (this site says they married there, but the Mackenzie biography says they married at the Mornington Road house discussed below). I have also not seen the plaque at the house everyone associates with Wells, because he died there: 13 Hanover Terrace.

I am, however, investigating his younger years. I know that a number of places with which he was associated have been destroyed, or are repurposed (such as Henley House School in Kilburn, which is now a housing development — it has a plaque for A.A. Milne, but not Wells). But today I was writing introductions for a book, and I began updating my biographical material.

That’s how I discovered how many existing buildings in London associated with Wells’ early life appear to be still standing, but don’t have plaques. It doesn’t really make sense, particularly when there are (obviously unofficial) plaques at places like William Burton’s house in Stoke-on-Trent, Basford, where Wells spent a mere three months recuperating from illness in 1888.

1859 ad for Morley’s Academy

Things start of well, biographically. The dame school he attended as a child, at 8 South Street in Bromley, has a plaque. The house where he lived with his family (Atlas House, 47 High Street), unfortunately, has been destroyed, and the site is now a commercial property in the high street. Along the same street was Morley’s Academy, where Wells learned book-keeping and other subjects. The numbering on the street has changed, but this site also appears to also be gone.  Things improve in Midhurst, where Wells was a chemist’s apprentice and attended grammar school. Midhurst has a number of plaques: on the place where he lived above a sweet shop (now the Olive and Vine — I recommend the King Prawns), the chemist’s shop (now a dentist), and the grammar school (now the South Downs Center). The house Uppark, where Wells’ mother worked and where he returned frequently, doesn’t need a plaque, since the house is preserved, rebuilt after fire, and can be visited (get there in the morning in case the cellars where Sarah Wells worked close early because of a lack of volunteers — better yet, volunteer!) There is a plaque in Windsor, at the drapers where he was an apprentice.

But London, where blue plaques pop up like pimples, there’s an issue. In 1885, Wells resided at 181 Euston Road, walking across the part every day to attend classes at the Normal School of Science (now Imperial College). That house doesn’t exist, because the railroad was extended — the side of the street it would be on is now a drop onto the tracks. Fitzroy Road in Primrose Hill, however, does exist, and Wells lived at two different houses there. His aunt and cousin Isabel (later his wife) lived at 12 Fitzroy Road, and he moved in with them in 1888 (right after those three months in Batsford). In May of 1889 they all moved to a bigger house at 46 Fitzroy Road. Now I know, because of Bromley, that street numbers can change. But if they haven’t, and I’m using Google Maps correctly, those houses are there:


12 Fitzroy Road

46 Fitzroy Road

Lovely houses, but no plaques. And it’s not really near Wells’ job at Henley House School, so I’ll have to investigate streetcars, but that’s a task for another time…

In October of 1891 Wells and Isabel married, and they moved to 28 Haldon Road in Wandsworth. It seems to be still there:

28 Haldon Road, Wandsworth

Hmmm…no plaque. Wells wss 25 years old by then, and lived here several years. His mother Sarah visited him here, he had a bout of illness in May 1893 and was confined to bed here, writing like a maniac, but no plaque. He’d be commuting from here to Red Lion Square, where he taught biology. Streetcar? Later, later…

Wells also fell in love with another woman at the biology labs, Amy Catherine. He left his wife and moved in with Amy, to 7 Mornington Place, in Camden Town. Uncomfortable with the landlady (who was uncomfortable with them), two months later they moved to 12 Mornington Road. Mornington Road is now Mornington Terrace, so again, if the numbering is OK and Google streetview is correct, both these houses are also there:

7 Mornington Place, Camden

12 Mornington Terrace

No plaque (that one on the right is an alarm thing).

So let’s review. Up-and-coming famous person, writing a biology text-book and something that will later be called The Time Machine, and no plaque? After this, we’re on to Maybury Road in Woking, Sandhurst, other places that do have plaques.

It does make me wonder.


Update: Having received a question about this from my colleague Rob Bond, I looked up the rules (first at Wikipedia, then properly at at English Heritage Trust). For London, a person may only have one blue plaque. The one for Wells at Hanover Terrace is blue. The one at Chiltern Court is brown. So the others I’m proposing should likely be from one of the other schemes, which English Heritage mentions on their page, at the bottom.


Footnote number 24

You know how it is. I had to order H. G. Wells in Nature 1893-1946: A Reception Reader, edited by John S. Partington, from interlibrary own for the fourth time because I kept needing stuff I didn’t scan last time, and damn the book’s expensive on the secondary market. How can they ask $90 for an old collection with such a small audience?

Then I come upon footnote number 24 on page 32, in an article by a Henry Armstrong on “Scientific Method in Board Schools” from 1894: it says “this article has not been traced”. What? That’s all I’ve been doing, tracing articles. It even says the journal and edition:


The game is afoot! I set a timer. Educational Times in May of 1891. Well, that’s a Wellsian publication year, of course.

So it must be available at Hathi Trust, I think knowingly to myself. They don’t call it the Educational Times there, I remember. For some reason it’s indexed as Education Outlook, except the Search box doesn’t recognize that name. Had to deal with that little diversion two years ago while searching for this stuff the first time. Just a matter of tracing through….wait a minute. I’d have that, wouldn’t I? 1891 is a year that Wells published a number of articles. If I’d found the whole volume somewhere, I would have downloaded it. Search the hard drive, not the web. Find the ET for 1891…nope, don’t have it.

Back to Hathi. Volume is here…May…got it! in ET the important stuff is usually at the beginning. Yes, this must be it — lectures on teaching chemistry.


14.5 minutes. Nailed it.


Wells and student supplies

I am working on some of the arguments in the press which involved H.G. Wells, and came upon the issue of lab equipment for students.

In 1896, H.G. Wells wrote in the Saturday Review a complaint about the lack of cheap microscopes for students. His larger point was that British manufacturing was always behind when it came to scientific apparatus for students, and that this held back progress. He wrote that cheap, good student microscopes had not been available 7 years prior (when he was teaching biology) — students either bought good ones costing over 5 guineas or did without. He saw student microscopes, the ones they brought to labs, and experienced their various problems. German microscopes had since come in that were good but also inexpensive. In response, British microscopes were finally better and more affordable.

Just as an example, this Steward “college” model cost £3. According to this calculator, that’s £357 in today’s money. This ad is from 1885.

Here is one is in the Wellcome Collection.

So at first I wasn’t sure what to make of Wells’ argument, since I don’t know much about microscopes (I only saw milk, like in the Thurber story). But if Wells was correct, than this Steward’s model (the “college” microscope) was probably not very good, and the “complete” microscope better at £5 5s.

Wells’ piece was followed by extensive arguments in Correspondence. Henry Crouch, a microscope manufacturer, rebutted every point Wells made. He insisted that cheap and good microscopes had been available seven years prior, and that the German optical improvements had indeed influenced the manufacture of all microscopes. Wells countered that he’d had requests for the addresses of the German manufacturers so people could order, and said if there was a British model with good high and low power in a stout box for three and a half guineas or less, he’d like to know the address of the manufacturer.

Two other manufacturers then wrote in (James Parkes and Sons, and R. & J. Beck, giving their shop addresses). Both said they indeed sold many microscopes fitting Wells’ specifications, and had done for over a decade.

I’m suspicious, given Wells’ extensive experience with crap microscopes. But one has to consider that he could have been wrong, or that his students weren’t looking hard enough for good equipment, or that they were humiliated when shopping (he mentions this possibility in the article too).

Wells declared that the chemical balance (right) would soon be the new example of British manufacturers again creating only expensive equipment that students could not afford, until pushed by competition from elsewhere.

Of course, his original point wasn’t about microscopes, or balances. Those were just examples (people always jump on the examples). It was about British manufacturers trying to rip off a captive student market because they could. That’s not unlike textbook publishers today.

While it may be possible for governments to fund educational access, with scholarships and grants, they don’t produce the equipment necessary for educating groups of students. They have to purchase it from specialists, or the professors do, or the students do, or some combination. Usually the cost falls, then as now, on the student. And this is why Wells saw it not only as a national problem, but as a problem of private enterprise taking advantage.



The Grant Museum of Zoology

Sure, you can go to the Science Museum in South Kensington. It’s huge, and has lots of cool stuff.

But small museums have such an inviting feel to them. Often they seem personal, because they sometimes are the dream of one person or a small group of people. And in England, there are so many of them.

I have a certain attraction also to the University of London, even though I’ve only attended one presentation there. It’s at the heart of my research, because it was the opening of the University exams to all comers that made it possible for lower middle-class people like HG Wells to get their degree. It was their exams that led to the demand for institutions like the University Correspondence College. And it’s in Bloomsbury, with its own wonderful Virginia Woolf history. Plus it’s got Red Lion Square, where Wells taught at the University Tutorial College labs.

But it doesn’t feel like a cohesive area, perhaps because, like a number of English universities, its buildings are scattered about. Among them is the Grant Museum of Zoology, a small Victorian museum that belongs to the University.


It’s only open from 1-5 in the afternoon, so one day in October I found myself hanging around on the sidewalk with a handful of other people, all of us wondering whether we could go in. Turns out there was an inner door, so we waited until someone who knew it was open went in, then we trailed behind.

For those of us who work with students, it’s enchanting, because the student influence is everywhere. I admit I was looking for a particular gorilla skeleton, but that’s not my fault.

A book on the university showed it in the 1880s. Wells got friendly with it about that time too.



So of course I had to find it. And I did. The poor thing is squashed into a case with a bunch of other stuff.

Yes, I was there to see a gorilla skeleton once touched by H.G. Wells. But there was so much more. Squishy things in jars. I love that stuff.

I didn’t even know that sea mice were a thing. And all this for students to use to study zoology, as Wells had done. They had rows and rows of little tubes with little animal bones.

And, most fascinating to me, an actual item used by T.H. Huxley in his classroom!

Now, I’m not a biologist (nor do I play one on TV), but history of science, technology, the Victorian era – that’s my thing. It’s enough to made you

Unlike large museums, where every individual item can take on extreme importance with a big sign for each thing, small museums pack a lot of stuff into each square inch. The collection is obvious, and it’s the collection that counts.

This place has things you’ll never see in your life. A jar full of moles. Human skeletons ordered by type. Drawers of things you can’t identify (but students have to). Monstrous centipedes in liquid. Giant squid.

Looking for where Wells got his raw (and I do mean raw) material? It’s all here.

So you bet I coughed up some cash to Make Taxidermy Great Again.


College, a holiday post

Looking through my inbox at my Google alerts for pedagogy, I often come upon wonderful, uplifting pieces like this one on creative pedagogy. The goal is expressed as lighting “a fire and a passion for learning” in our students.

I’m going to go all Grinch and Ebenezer on this idea, in the spirit of the season. Those who’ve read my blog for a long time will understand that I do believe in inspiring students with my own modeling and trying a multiplicity of cool learning activities, but that I also face reality squarely.

So much literature on pedagogy the last decade has promoted the idea of opening curriculum to allow students to pursue their own interests. I do this, of course, when I have students choose their own topics for posting weekly evidence and writing papers. But the push goes beyond what I do, to allow students to determine their own direction for all their work. In my class, then, those who are fascinated by World War II could study only that the entire term, or pursue only the history of skateboarding, or trace only their own interests and determine their own reading.

This approach is bolstered by those trying to correct the presumably “industrial” model of teaching. Haunted by straight rows of desks and raised hands, reformers want to create a more open environment for discovery. This view manifests in the disdain of lecture, the promotion of active learning, and the idea of the teacher being “the guide on the side” or (even better) discovering together with students.

We flip classrooms, we engage in social equity pedagogy, we bring in amazing things, we guide discovery. Sometimes students respond with enthusiasm, but when we get down to those exams, they do the same or worse than students did when we used the “old” method. So the utopians say, “the exams are bad! down with exams!” But most of us have to assign a grade, and even more we feel an obligation to assign this grade to the work produced. Not to enthusiasm. Or participation. Or the socio-economic status of the student. And when the exams come back and we see that we’ve failed, we cannot admit it and just raise all the grades.

Another approach is more like marketing: give the customer what they want. This method focuses on what students say they want in class: an enthusiastic teacher, more study guides, fewer large-stake assignments, inspiration to become involved. Student evaluations complain: “he won’t tell us what’s on the test”, “he docked me 3 points for being late”, “I have eight classes and three children to take care of, and this class assigned too much work”, “she’s boring”.

What no one wants to talk about is that what many students really want is college as adult day care. They want class to be like a fancy retirement community, where the teacher tries really hard but they can choose to participate in the fun activities or just knit in the corner. They also want to be reminded continually of anything they’re expected to do, as I’ve seen over two decades of student demands that the LMS tell them when everything is due. In this model, it is easy for students consider themselves as guests, not the inmates of an industrial penitentiary (as assumed by reformers) nor participating contributors. They wish to be entertained into being interested, and individually counseled into being motivated, assuming they need bring neither of these to the table.

I’ve been researching 19th century education, which was not as “industrial” as we like to think, and where teachers were just as concerned about pedagogy as we are. But they saw college differently from my colleagues. It was a place where talented scholars deserved to go, and where those who weren’t scholastic were naturally excluded. The meritocracy (a term coined by Michael Young in 1958) was designed to be real, including those who had scholastic talent but would otherwise be socially excluded due to their background, race, income, or class. Victorian educational reformers wanted the examinations to be open to all comers, even before the University of London did so a hundred years before Young named the system. The idea was that the degree was awarded on ability, and ability alone to the extent possible. Those without money would be paid for. Status, gender, race would be ignored. It was a given that scholastic achievement was not for everyone. The methods used would be those that worked for talented people to pass the examinations and earn a degree.

The goals, designed to promote opportunity for those whom society left out, have evolved into something entirely different. Now we believe that college is something everyone ought to be able to attend, regardless of scholastic merit, and more, that they should be able to get a degree. I struggle to find reasons why we want people to attend college who don’t want to be there, and are not interested in the development of the mind, only the goal of a degree with its presumed connection to a good job and a nicer living than others have access to.

The scholarly diamonds in the rough are worthy of all the care, attention, and sound pedagogy we can offer. Those who struggle because their life circumstances make things difficult deserve even more — they deserve a public-funded system that understands that it’s in the public interest to help them. Even if their skills aren’t there yet when they come to us, it is our task to help them develop. At community college, sometimes we need to feed them — literally, so that they can think.

The unmotivated, the lazy, the ones who only want to study World War II, the students who want young adult day care? My sympathy and care with them is bounded by the attention they give to the work I assign, the work designed to help them develop historical skills. If I inspire them, it will be because they want to be inspired, not because I’m particularly inspirational.

I wanted to end this post with a critique of the Yeats’ quotation that began the uplifting article I linked at the top, about education being the lighting of a fire rather than the filling of a pail. But I can’t, because it looks like it isn’t even Yeats. I refuse to go all post-modern and say that doesn’t matter, since it’s the idea that counts. It does matter, and is yet another argument for a good, rather than an easy, education.


Calling the Tune: British Universities and the State, 1880-1914

Keith Vernon, senior lecturer in Modern Social History at University of Central Lancashire, keeps popping up in my readings, because he focuses on the history of higher and technical education in the 19th and 20th centuries. This one is from 2001.

All history articles have what I call an “although” thesis, stated or implied. It’s usually something along the lines of, “although historians have seen it this way, they’re wrong and here’s why”. This article was no exception. Apparently the scholarly analyses of educational change published in the late 1980s and 1990s were in error in concentrating on the role of the state in the development of British universities only after 1919, when the University Grants Committee came into being. Such direct influence from the government on the universities came earlier. Of course, since I’ve been studying the grants given by the Science and Art Department, later the Board of Education, during the 1880s, it was easy to agree with Vernon’s thesis. I learned the government was always willing to fund universities in the interest of helping them become cultural centers, and that the funding in the late 19th century was thus limited to sciences and arts and restricted from vocational subjects (including medicine). I learned that Oxford and Cambridge had quite a bit of their own funding, but that other entities throughout Britain who wanted to become universities had to prove their university-level arts and sciences to the government to get money. Thus a pattern of “investigation, regulation and funding” (p253) emerged that ensured that new universities towed the line, even while the government insisted that local funding remained primary, especially as provincial institutions were inherently local in their perspective and usefulness.

Even Oxford and Cambridge, however, expanded access during the latter part of the 19th century. Doing so, interestingly, undermined for some the reason for the University of London, which had been to first to allow Dissenters, women, and poorer people to obtain degrees. Despite the separation between academic and vocational studies that Vernon insists was enforced by the government, however, teaching seems to have been the exception. He notes that the university colleges primarily engaged in teacher training, and that following the investigations of 1895, the Treasury remained skeptical and wanted to “ensure that a reasonable number of arts and science students were studying for purely academic reasons, not on vocational courses” (p261). Perhaps this is why so many teachers at that time, including H.G. Wells, wanted to earn a degree, and it may suggest reasons why having one was necessary to getting a good position as a schoolmaster.

The other interesting section of the article concerned the battle over Gresham University, or what I’ve seen elsewhere called The Gresham Scheme. In 1892, the issues brought forth by University College and King’s College, both integral parts of the University of London (though they didn’t want to be) could not be resolved. The two colleges allied with 10 medical schools to recommend a teaching university with the name Gresham University. The Cowper Commission instead, in 1894, recommended keeping one University of London but dividing the internal (teaching) and external (examining) functions. Just as it got interesting, the article jumped into the 20th century. But when it did so, it claimed that admiration for Germany caused the new reforms that created the Imperial College, constructed out of the old Normal School of Science (attended by HG) and other South Kensington entities. Imperial College “was explicitly designed as a technological powerhouse for the empire” (p264). So long as we’re arguing for earlier origins of things, I would argue that the German influence came much earlier, when the payment-by-results and other schemes were introduced in order to encourage science teaching.



Vernon, Keith. 2001. “Calling the Tune: British Universities and the State, 1880-1914.” Hist. Educ. 30 (3): 251–71.

Ann Veronica

I have been reading H.G. Wells’ Ann Veronica through much of this sabbatical. This is not because it’s a long book, but because it’s difficult for me to fit in quiet reading time. Luckily, the novel is interruptible, because the main character is wonderful, so you don’t forget where you left off. Plus there’s the physical pleasure of reading my copy: it’s a small format hardback, published by Newnes, with no printed copyright date and a strange picture on the frontspiece.

In these days of identity politics, and the prevailing belief that only members of a particular group can understand the issues of said group, this is a book revealing in its portrayal of the young female mind. It feels very contemporary: Ann Veronica’s dreams, thoughts, concerns, are the same as in many a young woman, then and now. How to be independent, how to find ones own way instead of the way of ones parents, how to discover what matters in life, how to explore love — none of this is new, but is conveyed beautifully in a novel that happens to have been written by a man. (My copy, obtained second-hand, also may have been read by one. It has the wonderful scent of pipe tobacco.)

Knowing Wells’ life as I do, it is clear that once again (as with Love and Mr. Lewisham and Tono-Bungay) his own life provided the grist for the mill. At first, it didn’t seem so. Ann Veronica as a young woman, growing up with her father and aunt, told she cannot attend a party with friends, appears to have little in common with Wells’ youth in the house attached to the Bromley cricket/china shop. None of the environment evokes West Sussex, either, and the distance between Morningside Park and London is much shorter.

This book was controversial. I thought I understood why early in my reading, when Ann Veronica, fed up with her father’s refusal to let her do anything independent, leaves home for London. She doesn’t have much money, but decides to live on her own and get a job. Although the year is not defined, the book was written in 1909, and its main character has been called a “New Woman”. But she doesn’t necessarily feel new, even in this act of defiance. She is continually questioning what she is doing and why, whether it’s the right thing, and what the alternatives would be. There are men about, since she is a lovely and interesting young lady, honest in her speech and direct in conversation. But she leaves the boy from home at home, and he doesn’t appear much in the rest of the story.

Instead of summarizing the plot, what I found interesting were first, the elements Edwardians would have found shocking, and second, the connections to Wells’ own life. [Spoiler alert!]

While leaving home to live alone in London is, as her aunt keeps repeating, shocking enough, there are further shocks to come. Ann Veronica associates with men whom she thinks are (a) single, and (b) friends. One, the man from which she has agreed to take a loan, takes her to a “private dining room” and physically attacks her (!) When she tries to return half his money, he returns it to her, and she’s so angry she throws it in the fire, leaving her destitute (!). She falls in love with a man she learns is married, but she still loves him (!). Seeking meaning, she becomes a suffragette, is arrested after hitting a police officer, and spends a month in prison (!). Then, she runs off with the married man she loves (!!). And, most shocking at all, they do fine and live quite happily (!!!). Her father and aunt even forgive her.

If it’s true that Nabakov once said that there are two forbidden subjects in modern fiction (a young girl in a sexual relationship with a much older man, and an interracial couple that lives happily ever after), this has got to be a third. Girl leaves home, can’t keep a job, goes to college, survives molestation with aplomb (and a swift chop to her attacker’s throat), conducts an illicit relationship with a married man, and lives happily ever after — in 1909!

I’m pretty sure this is Professor “Russell”

I don’t think I could write a paper on why Ann Veronica was a shocker (I’m sure others have), but I probably could write one about Wells’ mining of his own life to portray emotional depth. Ann Veronica achieves independence of mind and thought, not through a clerical job, but through science laboratory classes at the Central Imperial College. (The Normal School of Science, where Wells studied under T.H. Huxley, had become Imperial College of Science and Technology in 1907.) She borrows the money to go to school, to get her Bachelors Degree. She likes to study (guess what?) biology. Having already matriculated at the University of London, she was attending Tredgold Women’s College with her father’s reluctant permission, before she left home. But she wanted to study at “the fountainhead”, the biologist “Russell”, who had a distinctive mane of hair so familiar to those who’ve ever seen a photograph of Huxley.

We’re continually reminded of Russell’s importance. Ann Veronica’s father studies geology slides in his leisure time, and is into Mendelian theory. He doesn’t like that Ann Veronica wants to study with Russell because he’s a Darwinist. (I recently came upon an article featuring Wells, Darwin, and Mendel that is quite interesting.) He also hints that Russell’s demonstrator is a cad:

“Now look here, Veronica, let us be plain with each other. You are not going to that infidel Russell’s classes. . . . There’s stories, too, about his demonstrator, Capes Something or other. The kind of man who isn’t content with his science, and writes articles in the monthly reviews.. . .” (pp27-28)

Capes, who runs the biology laboratory at the Central Imperial College, will be Ann Veronica’s love interest, and is clearly H.G. Wells.  Although he is not physically described, Ann Veronica notes he has nice, competent hands . She is a student in the lab, and he comes round to check her work. This was the situation at the University Tutorial College’s biology lab, where in 1892 Wells met Catherine Amy Robbins, who was a student. He was indeed, at the time, writing articles in the monthly reviews. He had married his cousin Isabel the previous year, but fell in love with Catherine, who was very like Ann Veronica in her directness. Wells is thus Capes, stuck in a marriage, and setting up house illicitly with his new love. The descriptions of this love are tender and sweet and sensual, a reminder of his feelings toward his wife when they got together:

“I do it–of my own free will,” said Ann Veronica, kissing his hand again. “It’s nothing to what I will do.”
“Oh, well!” he said a little doubtfully, “it’s just a phase,” and bent down and rested his hand on her shoulder for a moment, with his heart beating and his nerves a-quiver. Then as she lay very still, with her hands clenched and her black hair tumbled about her face, he came still closer and softly kissed the nape of her neck. . . .(p299)

The names of the characters are fun, suggestive, and onomatopoetic. The “villain”, who supports Ann Veronica and then wants sex in return, is Ramage, which sounds destructive. The boy back home is Teddy, like the bear. The man she tries to convince herself she should marry is the loyal and manly Manning. Another student who tends to interrupt the lovers (Adeline Roberts in real life, a friend of Catherine’s) is Miss Klegg. And of course, Capes is capable (and nowadays would be a superhero wearing one). Ann Veronica’s last name is Stanley, reminiscent of the great Victorian explorer.

Capes has to quit his biology job because he’s a married man who’s taken up with another woman, so he becomes…you’ll never guess…a writer! Of plays, but still a successful writer who makes their future middle-class life possible. And, part of the tale he tells Ann Veronica about his non-divorce (solved before the last chapter just as in Wells’ own life) involves a familiar incident. Unsatisfied by his wife, Capes became sexually involved with one of her friends, just as recreation, as Wells had himself done with a Miss Kingsmill. What’s fascinating is that as the reader you really like Capes, because he’s so connected with Ann Veronica intellectually, despite his imbroglios.

Now, contemporary feminists won’t like a number of things in the book. It leaves Ann Veronica placid and content, and pregnant, at the end. And the portrayal of the suffragettes, while sympathetic, also allows for some questioning of the cause itself, and its methods. In fact, the only times Wells uses first person is in describing the suffragette attack on Parliament using moving vans to get close to the door (the activity that gets Ann Veronica arrested):

Were I a painter of subject pictures, I would exhaust all my skill in proportion and perspective and atmosphere upon the august seat of empire, I would present it gray and dignified and immense and respectable beyond any mere verbal description, and then, in vivid black and very small, I would put in those valiantly impertinent vans, squatting at the base of its altitudes and pouring out a swift, straggling rush of ominous little black objects, minute figures of determined women at war with the universe. (p208)

It is clear throughout the book that he sides with Ann Veronica herself when it comes to opposing women’s restrictive roles and asserting the need for intellectual excellence. But others won’t see it that way. Literary historian Kate MacDonald writes that Wells, in The Life of Sir Isaac Harman, written a few years after Ann Veronica:

. . . requires us to read yet another fantasy of a young and beautiful woman as the object of a rather older man’s devotion, as if that is all women are for. While the subtext of the novel is that women should not be viewed as solely as sex objects, Wells shows he is incapable of writing a woman who isn’t one.

Wells was six years older than Catherine, although it is ten in the fictionalized version. Neither seems much older to me, but that’s my perspective. MacDonald also sees Wells’ ongoing use of himself and his life in his fiction to be egotistical. Yes, indeed.

I’m just not sure I agree with the argument about how he characterizes women. While Ramage may have treated Ann Veronica as a sex object, none of the other characters do. Manning treats her like a trophy. Teddy treats her like a goddess. Her father treats her like a doll. And the author treats her with respect, and has created characters as foils for her. While the ending may be unsatisfying (you’d prefer Ann Veronica do well without a man, and keep up her scientific studies), I think it’s asking a lot for Wells to exhibit 21st century sensibilities when he was, after all, writing for money in 1909. We ask too much of historical figures sometimes. Wells, from what I can tell, was a believer in both women’s equality and the kind of “free love” that benefited himself. But in Ann Veronica I see not only sympathy with women’s lives, but understanding.



The Struggle for the History of Education: more glossing

[Glossing is actually the process of commenting on a text, like annotation. This isn’t exactly what I’ve been doing, since I’m combining summaries of useful chapters of books I’m reading with that commentary.]

I have been reading Gary McCulloch’s The Struggle for the History of Education (Routledge 2011) to understand theory and method using education as the central point, so this will build on my reading in Writing History: Theory and Practice.

So it turns out I was right about educationists practicing history, and historians looking at education — it’s been a big part of the struggle. Gary McCulloch should know: he has a BA in Educational Studies, an MA in History of Education (I didn’t know you could do that), and a PhD in History (from Cambridge). In the introduction, he states his purpose, not only of this book but of the others he’s written over the last ten years: to “codify the field in such a way that would provide scope for a wide range of researchers with different interests to discover connections with it and to develop it further. ” (p8)  That makes my work part of a wider development of the history of education as a sub-discipline, which I suppose is better than being outside any sub-discipline at all. It would be nice to be in a club that would consider having me as a member.

According to McCulloch, the result of the many changes in social theory (and, I’d say, practice) has been new directions of study, including “inquiry into patterns of social disadvantage and the exclusion and marginalization of particular groups in society, which has gone beyond the previous emphasis on social class to address issues concerning gender, sexuality and disability…” (p10). Hmmm. H.G. Wells was male, sexually inclined toward females, and his only disability was a recurring lung problem that forced him into different areas of endeavor (he quit two jobs and was accommodated in one). I wonder whether there’s a problem because he was classically lower middle-class? Is he historiographically uninteresting?

Then it got worse as I read on. Unfortunately, in the historiography of the 19th century in this book, my new hero fared badly. Leopold von Ranke’s “scientific” method of history was discredited in the 1970s by Gareth Stedman Jones, who claimed that even though positivism/Whiggism has been disclaimed, historians like Ranke continued to practice it in the guise of collecting all the “facts” before they’d engage any theory (p12). It began to look like my whole approach ended in the 1950s.

The British path went like this: in the first half of the 20th century, the Whig interpretation dominated, with national narratives of progress in expanding education, all very self-congratulatory and encouraging. Beginning in the 1930s this approach was debated, and Fred Clarke based his work in sociology as well as history. He wanted people to understand the historical determinants of the English educational system to assess its ability to adapt to change, world wars in particular. He noted that the routes to education were different depending on your social standing, and was frustrated that no one had studied this. Histories of particular institutions and biographies of reformers were common, but nothing had been done with education in the same way as was taking place in economic and social history. Devoted to the idea of adapting to the times, he felt it was necessary to know the history of education in relation to social changes. These ideas helped support reform, and after the war more scholars began to study education. New journals appeared. A.H. Halsey documented the expansion of grammar schools as gateways to university, and published a work about the impact of social reforms on social mobility called Origins and Destinations (1980).

Sociology then took a leading role in the UK following World War II. Michael Young was mentioned here, and I know a little about him because of his connection with the National Extension College, the modern-day version of the University Correspondence College. In The Rise of the Meritocracy (1958), he traced the conflict between those who wanted a meritocracy versus those wanting equality. Apparently this book had an imaginative bent (Young was a sociologist). Other works of sociology are mentioned in the chapter. Olive Banks studied ways in which educational institutions, especially secondary schools, trained occupational groups, and demonstrated connections between school programs, examinations, and the push to get ahead. Even better for my work, she used Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) to show the desire for “personal comfort and decent livelihood”, which is basically why many people wanted to get university degrees. Her Sociology of Education (1968) countered the old trend, which was essentially a new version of the liberal-progressive approach: that education helped create a more stable and prosperous society. She also apparently refused to consider class or gender as pertinent to her analysis (p38), which might be helpful to me too. Raymond Williams, however, writing about the same time, argued that the 19th century education was based firmly on social class.

Gareth Stedman Jones also criticized the liberal-progressive approach in the 1970s as lacking theory, and the perspective as being top-down. Gordon and Szreter in 1989 introduced a three-prong criticism of the old approach: it emphasized individual thinkers with little reference to what happened to their schemes, it was overly concerned with legislation instead of the questions within the legislation (vested interests, for example), and it had too much emphasis to formal education (p27). The old view was also concerned with the descriptive, rather than analytical, nature of the field. McCulloch does point out the some of these “old method” books were quite good, but they were still “of the national textbook variety” (p30).

An entire chapter is dedicated to Brian Simon (1915-2002), “the most significant historian of education produced in Britian over the past century” (p41). (This makes sense, since McCulloch notes in the introduction that he is the Brian Simon chair at the Institute of Education at University College London, and promised to promote his memory — Simon’s works take up almost a full page of the bibliography, and he’s posted even more stuff here.) Simon built on the idea from the 1940s and 50s about connecting education and social change, and wrote a four-volume history that I hope I never have to read. He was a classical Marxist, though, so it might be OK.

The aim was not only to discredit the traditional liberal-progressive historiography, but to encourage broad support for an argument that would actively promote the attainment of social equality for all. (p41).

His intellectual guide was Fred Clarke, and he argued beginning in the 1930s that schools should be adaptable to changing society, and educational policy be the subject of continual questioning (p43). He saw education as where society’s issues are worked out, and even though he was Marxist he didn’t require the continual process toward a classless society as a goal. The comprehensive school, however, was a primary challenge to elitist education, and he opposed testing young students to determine their educational future. Marxism was helpful in providing critique, an analysis rather than an acceptance of the current educational system. The Education Act of 1870 (which I like because it created free elementary education) he saw as securing the domination of the beourgoisie over the form and content of education (p44). He credited the working classes themselves for getting the system to change when it did, which I like because it attributes agency (I guess I’m not much into impersonal forces causing things). He believed that this agency would triumph over both government and beourgeois efforts to retain class structure. He was not concerned, however, with “social inequality”, by which McCulloch seems to mean modern issues of gender and ethnic minority inequality. So the new focus on these things has left Simon behind. Which is a shame, because I like him.

The American path was a little different. Cubberly put education into some historical context, showing uneven progress but with a clear focus on the state’s responsibility to educate children. Then Bernard Bailyn criticized this approach for not considering broader cultural history, and Cremin criticized it for not including elements like mass media and non-school entities (private educational foundations, for example). Then the Marxists came along in the 1960s and 70s, saying that not only was the idea of progress ridiculous, but that schools deliberately enforced social and economic hierarchies, and political economists agreed. Others, however, tried to balance the two views (progress versus anti-progress) during the culture wars of the 1960s, and by the 1980s the history of education was as conservative as the country’s political turn.

I have to gloss the section on “The struggle for theory and methodology”, of course. In 1999, historian of education Jurgen Herbst complained that the sub-discipline had gone stale, repeating “old mantras” of class, race, and gender as “empty formulae” rather than theory or method (p71). McCulloch argues that “the field can benefit” from “critical engagement with the theories and methodologies in the broader humanities and social sciences”, something which is already happening (p72). But first, we get to do empiricism and postmodernism again, this time as challenges to the history of education. Yippee!

Sociologist C. Wright Mills is frequently cited, I’m noticing, in work about historical theory. Here he criticized historians being unaware of social theory, which he thought bizarre considering that history itself is a theoretical discipline. (It is? I must think about that.) Postmodernists, as we know, criticize any “positivistic or quasi-scientific” elements in historical writing, and like to proclaim the death of causation. McCulloch considers relativism as the opposite of the view that we cannot know anything, because it says that all evidence is equally valid. Both views have pushed historians to be more explicit about how they do history.

(Having read a bit about this now, I’ve decided that this is the beneficial role of postmodernism/post-structuralism: it pushes traditional historians to explain what they’re doing, and what theoretical constructs they use. It seems to me this is the same with democracy and liberal traditions today. The elements of society that are opposed to liberalism have mounted a highly successful, if anti-intellectual, opposition. The only way to deal with that is to articulate more clearly, and more loudly, why democracy is good, why liberal values matter, why we should treat people fairly, etc. It will, I hope, force liberalism to defend itself properly, instead of wrestling the opposition in the mud.)

Although efforts have been made to “bridge the gap” between history and theory in education, it seems to have remained empiricist (p74). There have, however been some influences. Sol Cohen, in studying the “linguistic turn” in the hsitory of education, noted that history and literature may be closer than we think. (In fact, I’m just now reading an article on how historians begin their writing, in which Trevor Dean claims that the opening dramatic narrative to a history paper is not seen before 1955, and is becoming increasingly more common.) McCulloch believes we need to engage these theories, not ignore them, as he wrote about in a paper with Ruth Watts. However, as Richard Aldrich notes, historians also shouldn’t give up on the idea of truth.

The last couple of chapters of the book focus on now and the future, but don’t provide anything I’d call a theoretical model. Instead, there are calls for more models, all of them opposing postmodernism in method but acknowledging it in theory. Educational theory itself, however, is noted in a couple of places, and this is another “line of inquiry” for my own work. Pierce, James and Dewey can all be repositories of theory, and the last part of the book mentions “teaching and learning” as a “new” area of inquiry, so I’ve copied those pages for later, after I deal with Mr Wells in his own context.

[Last note: in seeking another book to illustrate this text-heavy post, I came upon this one by S.J. Curtis, who is not mentioned in McCulloch’s book. But what caught my eye was the publisher: University Tutorial Press. Briggs and the University Correspondence College are sneaking into this post after all…]



Aldrich, Richard. History of Education. Mar2003, Vol. 32 Issue 2, p133-143 (EBSCO)
Banks, Olive. Parity and Prestige in English Secondary Education: A Study in Educational Sociology, London: Routledge and Keegan Paul, 1955.
Clarke, F. The Study of Education in England, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1943
Cohen, Sol. Challenging Orthodoxies: Toward a New Cultural History of Education, New York: Peter Lang, 1999
McCulloch, Gary; Watts, Ruth. History of Education. Mar2003, Vol. 32 Issue 2, p129-132. (EBSCO)
Mills, C. W. The Sociological Imagination, London: Oxford University Press, 1959.
Young, Michael. The Rise of the Meritocracy: An Essay on Education and Equality, London: Chatto and Windus, 1958.