Imagining Public Education in Early Modern England

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Carlson, Eric
English Literature , Early Modern Literature , Education , Public Sphere , Vernacular Education , Logic and Rhetoric Manuals
Imagining Public Education in Early Modern England argues that the Tudor vernacular logic and rhetoric manuals participate in the development of early modern publicity. Although the seventeen extant manuals have a diverse set of social appeals, some of them imagine education as a concern of the many rather than the few, even if their conceptions of the “many” were far from universal. In the process of imagining a greater social participation in education, the Tudor manuals may have contributed to the ideological function of publicity as a veneer of universal accessibility over a reality involving many degrees of accessibility. In other words, at the same time that these writers were imagining a larger social function for education, they were also participating in the overall conceptual emergence of publicity itself. Chapter One examines the manuals aimed most clearly at producing social distinction. While recent studies have argued that these manuals either reinforce or subvert the established social order, I argue that they represent the intersection of distinction and publicity. Writers like Wilson and Puttenham engage with social distinction and reproduction in the forum of vernacular print not to subvert the social order but to continue these practices in a newly public way. Chapter Two focuses on the manuals which address both a professional and a public readership. These manuals contrast the social limitations of the university with the publicity of vernacular print in an allied appeal to both professional application and to the tradition of common knowledge. Chapter Three examines the two manuals with the broadest social appeals. While these authors envision strikingly inclusive ideas for education, they base their ideas of accessibility on the problematic principles of a national language and commodifed discourse. Chapter Four continues to explore the idea of public education but with a focus on the examples of Francis Bacon’s The Advancement of Learning and the statutes of London’s Gresham College. Contrary to the Habermasian school of public sphere theory, which allows only an impoverished notion of early modern publicity, the Tudor vernacular manuals indicate a lively and burgeoning discourse surrounding the imagination of public education.
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