The teaching of science in English dissenting academies 1662-1800

Lewis, Olive (1989). The teaching of science in English dissenting academies 1662-1800. MPhil thesis The Open University.



This thesis attempts a new assessment of the place of science teaching in the English Dissenting Academies. It examines the approach to science teaching, seeking to account for the presence of science in the curricula of the Academies and its relationship to the wider educational aims. The content of science courses is examined together with the texts used and the relationships between the science taught and contemporary trends in scientific thought. Some attention is also given to the forms of teaching used in Dissenting Academies, and comparisons with the Universities.

Solutions to these problems have been sought in a variety of sources: lecture notes, correspondence, published texts, formal minutes, prospectuses. Chapter 1 introduces the subject, and Chapters 2 to 8 cover the Academies. As there are over 90 known Academies it is not possible to examine each one in equal depth, thus four (Northampton, Moorfields/Stepney/Hoxton, Warrington and Hackney) have been chosen as case studies. These Academies were selected because sufficient material survives, and their dates collectively allow continuous and overlapping coverage from 1701 to 1796. The remaining Academies are discussed rather more briefly. Chapter 9 draws together the findings of Chapters 2 to 8, and attempts an assessment of the Academies by their approach to and teaching of scientific subjects.

The most significant point about the science teaching in the Academies is the varied quality, which ranged from the exceptional to the merely perfunctory. In almost one half, there is no evidence to suggest that science was taught at all. Generalisations cannot be made on the strength of the excellence of individual Academies or tutors, for example Priestley, Forster or Dalton, all of whom taught in these institutions. The reasons for including the subject on the curriculum also vary including specialist courses for students intending to follow medical or commercial careers, but in most Academies, the central reason is related to Christian belief, and the use of scientific knowledge to support the theological argument from design.

An antithesis between the Academies' aim to train ministers and at the same time, to offer a broad general education, can be perceived in attitudes towards science, and it is possible to suggest a more convincing reason for the decline of the Academies than those hitherto advanced.

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