|Title||‘Really useful’ knowledge? The London Mechanics’ Institution and the struggle for (independent) working class education|
The London Mechanics’ Institute (LMI), founded in 1823 was not the first such institution, but by general consent it was the most important. The institutional history of the LMI (and of the subsequent growth of mechanics institutions and associated bodies) is relatively well known, in outline at least. However the LMI’s origins were controversial and contested at the time and subsequent accounts have tended to ignore the fundamental issues of principle - focused on constituency, curriculum, and control - that surrounded them. This paper revisits the events surrounding the formation of the LMI in 1823-4. It concludes that whilst the question of precedence may be resolved by provisionally describing J C Robertson and Thomas Hodgskin as ‘founders’ of the Institute which George Birkbeck ‘inaugurated’ the more important issues of collective vs. individual models of ‘self-help’, of ‘useful’ versus ‘really useful’ knowledge, of what working-class education might be and whether it can ever be ‘independent’ are still with us, two centuries on.
|Keywords||London Mechanics Institute, George Birkbeck, Thomas Hodgskin, working-class education|
|Journal citation||76, pp. 18-20|
|Accepted author manuscript|