“Neo-Victorianism & Discourses of Education”
The nineteenth century saw the beginnings of mass education in Britain and elsewhere, while the more recent millennial turn has seen a range of reforms and ‘revolutions’ within educational systems world-wide, not least the insistent commercialisation of universities and a concomitant move to redefining educators and students as ‘service providers’ and ‘customers’ respectively. A large number of neo-Victorian novels are set in or engage with educational contexts, including universities, libraries, anatomy schools, private tutoring/governessing, ragged schools, and art colleges, mirroring the settings and concerns with Bildung in canonical works by Victorian writers such as Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, and others. Just as significantly, however, are contemporary self-conscious engagements with inherited nineteenth-century ideas regarding the purposes and ethos of education, such as character building, civic identity formation, the connection between personal and societal development, issues of widening access, the inculcation of moral values and national ideologies, and the perception that education systems serve as ‘engines’ of the economy. Then as now, however, prevalent concerns and anxieties about the achievements and failings of education hardly constituted a monolithic uncontested discourse; rather they divided public opinion and provoked continuous political and societal debate, much as these same concerns continue to do today.
This special issue will explore how neo-Victorian works contribute to this on-going debate by foregrounding the ‘origins’ of modern-day educational systems and approaches. What particular aspects of nineteenth-century education are highlighted and why? What are the main points of contention? How do today’s politicians appropriate (past) educational discourses for party-specific agendas? To what extent are nineteenth-century educational models proposed as alternatives to present-day problems in education? What nineteenth-century educational aims and ideals are depicted as still unfulfilled and unrealised? Possible topics may include, but need not be limited to the following:
- The discourse of universal access and the move to ‘mass’ higher education
- Education as a means for national progress and economic development
- Gradgrindean echoes of educational utilitarianism and measurable outcomes (performance statistics, league tables, proportional admission targets for economically disadvantaged groups, etc.)
- Representations and biofictions of educators and students past and present
- Curriculum changes and modifications, including tailoring courses to ‘consumer’ demand, the high proportion of nineteenth-century content (e.g. slavery, the British Empire, the US Civil War), links to conservative political agendas, targeted funding, and the recent valorisation of Science and Technology over the disparaged Arts and Humanities
- Higher education, universities, and the growing centrality of research and publication to institutional identities since the nineteenth century
- Bildung and the Bildungsroman tradition (the idea of character formation, education in civic responsibilities, education as nation-building, etc.)
- Desired outcomes (the ideal of rational autonomy, personal development, societal prosperity and progress, production of a skilled workforce, national and international competitiveness, graduate attributes, etc.)
- The emergence of disciplines at the nineteenth-century fin-de-siècle vs. more recent moves towards interdisciplinary teaching and research
- The ethos of future pasts: nineteenth-century models, unrealised ambitions, and anticipated trajectories in education systems
- Discourses of liberal humanism and neo-liberalism, the impact on education of laissez-faire economics, and the revitalisation of (Smiles’) ‘self-help’ discourse
- Education and creativity, including Ruskinean notions of curiosity, mystery and wonder, discursive constructions of creativity, and the harnessing of creativity for capitalism
- Education, industry, and the shift to a knowledge-based society in the information age
Completed articles and/or creative pieces, along with a short biographical note, will be due by March 31, 2015 and should be sent via email to the guest editors, with a copy to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please consult the NVS website (‘Submission Guidelines’) for further guidance.
Please address enquiries and expressions of interest to the guest editors Frances Kelly email@example.com and Judith Seaboyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.