Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

English and American Literature


English (en)

Date of Award

Summer 8-28-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Miriam Bailin


In their first issue of the Penny Magazine, a weekly publication for the education of the working class, the early nineteenth century century Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge promises a selection of “useful and entertaining” information: 1). But from a glance at the issue’s contents the modern reader is hard–pressed to identify what use can be found in articles on Van Diemen's Land, the “Antiquity of Beer,” and among other topics, “the vigilance of the American moose.” The uncertain identification of the “useful” in the magazine’s contents points to a general nineteenth–century English confusion about the meaning of the term, particularly as it relates to education. This confusion continues in twenty–first–century criticism on members of the education reform movement such as Joseph Priestley, Henry Brougham, Charles Knight, Harriet Martineau, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Henry Huxley, and William Forster.

Recognizing “use” and “useful” to be situation–based terms whose meanings, at times, depend upon who will “use” the education, this dissertation focuses on the middle–class education of the working classes and argues that, contrary to popular criticism, the nineteenth–century conception of useful knowledge for the English working classes was varied, often expansive, and capable of overlapping with the imagination, interest, and critical thinking. Although nineteenth century and twenty–first century critics frequently perceive “useful” as a self–evident and limiting term as it relates to education, my dissertation unpacks the mental exercises encouraged by useful topics and reconsiders the nineteenth–century relationship between intellectual development, moral development, and the imagination. Challenging the strict divisions of the Romantic from the Victorian education reformers and the sciences from literature, my dissertation brings together the arguments of nineteenth-century educational theorists, such as Matthew Arnold and Thomas Henry Huxley — quite often considered intellectually opposite one another. Focusing on the significant connections between these theorists, rather than their, declared, differences, allows me to posit new reasons within the middle–class perspective for the working classes’ frequent resistance to the curriculum.


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