Archives for posts with tag: universities

Enumeration, a Farmer Supplies Answers to the 232 Questions on the Farm Schedule, 1940 - 1941

A Q&A on my research has been published on the blog of  the European Research Area Collaborative Research Network (ERA-CRN), where you can read me waxing lyrical on such heady subjects as universities, networks, history and academic mobility.

Q1: What is the Empire of Scholars about?

At the start of the twenty-first century we are acutely conscious that universities operate within an entangled world of international scholarly connection. Empire of Scholars examines the networks that linked academics in Britain and the settler world in the age of ‘Victorian globalisation’ …

Q2: What got you started on this line of research?

In retrospect this germ of this book was sown when I was an undergraduate at the University of Adelaide. In the seminar room there, fading photographs of past history professors adorned the walls and written after all their names were the letters M.A. (Oxon) 

Q3: What has been the most surprising finding for you in researching Empire of Scholars?

I was surprised by just how connected colonial scholars of the 19th and early 20th century were to British academia. I had grown up with the idea of the ‘tyranny of distance’ combined with a form of cultural cringe which saw academics who migrated as second class scholars who couldn’t make it in Britain. But this was not the story I found in the archives …

Q4: How has this research contributed to your knowledge about the role of academics, higher education and universities in society and politics?

My research on the late 19th and 20th centuries – a period of increasing global connection, in which universities struggled to adapt themselves to new kinds of knowledge and technology – has influenced the way I understand today’s higher education sector…

Q5: Does this relate to your current research interests and how?

I am developing my research in two new directions, both of which examine the relationship between mobility, knowledge and higher education that I first considered in Empire of Scholars …

Q6: What advice do you have for those interested in researching higher education (the role of academics and universities) in modern times and also in different parts of the world?

I have found it useful to pay attention not just what higher education practitioners and institutions say about themselves, but also to what they do – to their practices. Academics are often strangely reluctant to turn their critical eye upon themselves …

… read the full Q&A on the ERA-CRN blog.

LSE Geography Dept 1986Recently we heard again of the North-South divide that dominates educational opportunities in England. Data obtained by the Guardian via a freedom of information request suggests that 30% of the candidates admitted to Oxford and Cambridge in 2012 came from just ten Local Education Authorities (LEAs) – all of which are in the country’s south-east. Geography, concludes the newspaper’s Richard Adams, needs to be added to “complex mix of race, sex, social background and school that have dogged admissions to the UK’s elite institutions.”

These figures point to the unequal structures that shape and condition access to higher education in Britain. Good schools, clustered near the global metropolis of London, and attended by members of the urban middle classes with their financial and cultural capital, offer students significantly better chances of admission to the nation’s elite universities.

But the data obtained by The Guardian is misleading in that it excludes another group of students who constitute an important source of Oxbridge admissions – those from abroad. Indeed, the figures used by the newspaper do not even include applications from students in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Putting overseas applicants into the mix casts a slightly different light on what Alex Niven has called Britain’s “geographical apartheid”.

Read the rest of this entry »


Copies of my book arrived in my post box this week!  They came totally unannounced.

It is a strange experience: to have lived for so long with the promise of the thing and then suddenly for it to be there incarnate, in your hands. It’s also a bizarrely solitary one. How do you share the lonely labour of years? I did what we do now in the 2010s and invoked social media. Then I wrote to all those who feature in my acknowledgements, and now I thought I’d tell you too.

So here is my Preface. I sweated over it because it feels like this book is in many ways about me – but then perhaps that is true for all authors. I hope it says something about how and why I came to write the book, and maybe gives a little indication of what it might be about …

In many ways this book began more than fifteen years ago at the University of Adelaide, where I frequently spent undergraduate seminars gazing at the fading photographs of past history professors hanging on the wall. George Cockburn Henderson, Keith Hancock, G.V. Portus, and Hugh Stretton all stared down at me, and written after all their names were the letters M.A. (Oxon). I cannot have been anything but dimly aware of this at the time, and neither do I remember being especially conscious of the uniform image of the white, male scholar they presented. However, when some years later their path to Oxford was one that I too followed, I began to wonder.

Initially I wanted to write about ideas. I wanted to know what they meant to people, where they came from, and how they got made, particularly in the context of the British Empire. But aware of my own unlikely passage to Oxford, and with the Adelaide professors still staring down at me, it seemed impossible to do this without thinking about the people who made knowledge, and the institutional structures and contexts that made them. I realised that before I could write about ideas I needed to know a lot more about the worlds that produced them – and academia seemed an obvious place to begin.

This study focuses on the elite world of universities in the United Kingdom and the settler colonies, and on the white, middle-class men who inhabited them. As instruments of culture and expertise, these were institutions that helped extend colonial rule, and the knowledge produced by those who worked in them was dependent upon a host of situated relationships with local agents and actors whose participation has since been erased. My focus, however, is not on these expanding and expansionist aspects of imperial universities but rather on their internal practices, structures and organisation. Not all readers will be sympathetic to this endeavour, but I hope this book will encourage them to think in new ways about the history of subjects and institutions they know well.

This book is therefore about the origins of my own academic career. It is my attempt to understand the system of which I am part, the traces it has left upon me, and the disparities that continue to characterise it…

Empire of Scholars: universities, networks, and the British academic world, 1850-1939 is published by Manchester University Press and you can buy it through Amazon (a bit cheaper than MUP) or (cheapest of all thanks to free global postage) the Book Depository.


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