The Appliance of Science

It was the advent of the industrial revolution that powered growth in the public interest in science during the late eighteenth century, just as much as it powered the mills and factories springing up across the land. Interest in such matters during the previous century had stemmed from the more cerebral aspects of the Enlightenment, and this was reflected in the formation and proceeding of the Royal Society (1660), whose deliberations were focussed on the pure and theoretical aspects of the major scientist discoveries being made by people such as Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke. Similar separate and independent bodies were created in Scotland and Ireland: the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1783) and the Royal Irish Academy (1785).

During the eighteenth century public interest moved progressively towards the more applied, technical and vocational aspects of scientific discoveries and the basic principles associated with industrial and manufacturing processes. In 1754 the Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce was establishes which ultimately became the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). Founded by William Shipley, the Society quickly received support from aristocrats, manufacturers and people from wider professional groups. They sponsored grants and premiums for improvement in agriculture, industry and the trades. Even here, though, an emphasis on pure aspects of science and technology persisted. The academic view taken by the new society reflected the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and reluctance to recognise and value the more technical aspects and the application of scientific discoveries.

Throughout the nineteenth century the Royal Society continued to be the premier body representing science subjects. Its work was complemented by that of many other newly-established learned societies, including the Linnaean Society (1788), dedicated to “the cultivation of the Science of Natural History in all its branches”, the Medical Society of Edinburgh (1734), the Medical Society of London (1773) and the Physical Society of Edinburgh (1771). Other specialist bodies were subsequently established in the nineteenth century, including the Chemical Society (1841), the Geological Society (1807), the Royal Astronomical Society (1820) and the Zoological Society (1826).

In 1799 the Royal Institution was created by the American-born but strongly loyalist Benjamin Thompson, who spent much of his life as an employee of the Bavarian government where he received his title ‘Count of the Holy Roman Empire’ thereafter becoming known as Count Rumford. The new organisation initially reflected Rumford’s interest  in heat, providing lectures on the application of science in the domestic setting, covering such concerns as ovens, ventilations and heating systems. After Rumford returned to Germany, Humphry Davy assumed the role of head of the Institution laboratory and changed the lecture format and content to focus on the teaching of science. Davy was succeeded by Michael Faraday who introduced a wide range of scientifically based lectures including the famous Christmas lectures, which continue to this day.

Happily interest in science was not restricted by social class. Membership of the Spitalfields Mathematical Society (1717) was largely comprised of weavers and was initially fixed at 64 (the square of 8). They met weekly to solve mathematical problems and perform experiments on pneumatic pumps, electrical devices, reflecting microscopes and telescopes.  The Society created an extensive library from which members could borrow books and equipment. Notable members included John Dollard, who went on to create the famous optical instruments company. The Society expanded by taking over other mathematical and historical society societies but because of the rise of the Mechanics’ Institutions, the decline of handloom weaving and trade recessions, was eventually absorbed by the Royal Astronomical Society in 1845. Other similar societies existed in Lancashire and Yorkshire and again the membership was largely comprised of weavers. Why, one wonders, were weavers so keen on mathematics – perhaps the importance of patterns and symmetry?

More detail on scientific and technical professional bodies can be found in other biographies and pen portraits in this section and in the history of technical education.



Teaching and Learning – Time for a reappraisal?


Two of the recurring themes in the history of technical education and training were the continuing negative perception of scientific and technological subjects and the quality of the teaching of these and related subjects. These critical factors have contributed to the low participation in these subjects in education and training institutions and thwarted attempts to address, resolve and raise the low esteem of scientific and technological disciplines. In addition the continuing low level of skills in the population and the imbalance in the skills equilibrium over the past few decades have created skills gaps and shortages. As part of the solution to these problems there needs to be an urgent and fundamental reappraisal of teaching and learning of practical, scientific, technical and vocational subjects and indeed other subjects. Finally there are the continuing concerns over the population’s capability in numeracy, mathematics, scientific literacy and statistics that are so essential in developing confidence and competence in technical and vocational subjects. The history highlighted a number of the ongoing weaknesses in the learning and teaching of the subjects at all levels in education and training. Below are a few of the more important elements that need urgently addressing and include:
·         A fundamental review and reform of teaching and learning methods/techniques and environments
·         Greater use of work experience programmes and use of realistic working environments (RWEs) and the greater use of apprenticeships, internships and sandwich programmes across the education and training system
·         Greater equality of involvement by employers in determining the nature, delivery and monitoring of the curriculum
·         The development of a more coherent, effective, relevant and up to date system of labour market intelligence (LMI)
·         Parity of esteem between general/academic and technical/vocational qualifications and awards
The list is by no means complete but in this article I will focus on the teaching and learning element and will write separate articles on each of the others although it must be stressed that all are interrelated and cannot be divorced from each other as they interact in complex ways with each other.
 For too long the emphasis and focus has been on teaching and the teacher, resulting in little attention being paid to the process of learning and recognition that learners possess different learning styles and expectations. Also different topics and subjects require differing emphases, styles and techniques in the way they are taught to maximise the learning. Learning must become the most important factor in the teaching and learning equation. Too often the wider aspects of pedagogy have been marginalised especially in regard to the learners. Teaching and learning have become in a sense an inverted process in the current system. A transformation is urgently required that puts less emphasis on pedantic teaching and a move away from the ‘sage on the stage’ to more of a ‘guide on the side’. The teacher should been seen more of a resource rather than the fountain of all knowledge and a transmitter of information. The teacher as a resource could assume the roles of a constructor, demonstrator, facilitator, mentor, and observer depending on the context of the learning situation. This is not easy as the situation currently is made worse by constant government interventions and short term fixes, an over prescriptive and over loaded curriculum with its obsession with testing, and the damaging consequences of leagues tables and meaningless and highly questionably targets. Teachers are as a result compelled and pressured to teach to rigid and inflexible syllabuses whilst assessment regimes dominate for much of the time and as a result a great deal of teaching is largely focussed on the tests and assessments i.e. ‘the teaching to test syndrome’. Sadly the essential link between professional and work practice and the subject has been lost and has become significantly weakened. The subject takes precedence over the ultimate practice and utilisation.  This is the part work experience/placement programmes can play during the formal teaching and the point at which the most effective way of learning by doing and gaining experience can be realised. One of the real deficiencies in technical and vocational education and training is the demise of apprenticeships and internships over the past few decades. These programmes allowed the learners to gain experience and practise in real work based situations. Research and various surveys have shown that only 10 to 20% of what one sees or hears as a learner in a formal teaching situation is retained whilst 95% of what a person experiences and learns on job is remembered and retained. In addition any form of learning must develop a sense of the importance of making the connections between the various elements within the given subjects but equally important the need to make connections with other disciplines. 
One of the essential outcomes of effective learning is to develop critical, reflective and lateral thinking skills along with the wider and transferable skills that prepare people for life and employment. Sadly today these key elements are too often neglected as teachers are required to cover an over prescriptive and often time constrained curriculum.  Information appears to be more important than the underpinning data, detail and knowledge that is relevant in actual work situations. The conveying of information is the over riding consideration together with the need to achieve success in examinations so that schools and colleges can figure well in the league tables and achieve misplaced targets set by the government. The real function and purpose of effective and sustained learning is marginalised and the students are as a result ill prepared for employment, further and higher study or indeed to possess these important skills in general life. The ability to be work ready is crucial especially at this time of rapidly changing work practices, rapidly updated and new technologies and global competition. Equally importantly these narrow approaches to learning stifle the motivation of the learner and can create a resistance and reluctance to engage in lifelong learning. As already mentioned what seems to have happened is the subject has become detached from the practice. A number of commentators have argued that this began with the Renaissance which placed the mind as the vehicle for intellectual pursuit over its use in the crafts and trades and this has continued since. I partly agree with this analysis based on the evidence in more recent times of the concept of academic drift, the lack of parity of esteem between technical/vocational and general/vocational qualifications and the general perception of the value of manual skills. This transformation in many ways was inevitable but the consequences were damaging as the crafts and trades i.e. the manual skills were relegated when compared with solely cerebral pursuits. The perception was created that practical skills were inferior to intellectual ones and the latter attracted greater esteem in the minds of people and it sadly became a social norm. This does not mean that intellectual skills are not required in the demonstration of practical skills. One only has to analyse the enrolments at colleges and universities to see the differences in numbers studying subjects that do not require practical skills as evidenced by the closures of many technical departments in colleges and the low numbers of learners who opt for technical subjects.
Also at university level the demise of work placement on degree programmes often called sandwich courses has weakened many technical, vocational and other professional programmes. Work placement programmes either operated as a small segment throughout the duration of the degree programme (often referred to as thin sandwiches) or on a full one year release basis (called thick sandwich). Sadly many universities stopped these on a number of grounds although some, mainly the former Polytechnics have continued them. Evidence has shown that the graduates of sandwich programmes gain employment more quickly than their peers who did not undertake such a programme and also gain a better class of degree, in some cases by a whole classification. Also many are offered employment by the company that offered the work experience opportunity in the first place. Sadly many students at university now want to complete their degrees as quickly as possible partly because of the financial burden of student grants and loans even though companies pay placement students a very good salary whilst on placement. If the government and universities are committed to the so called employability agenda then the reintroduction of more sandwich programmes is urgently required. A recent survey showed that a number of so-called blue chip companies in banking and financial services actually charged students to undertake work experience – not exactly a way of encouraging the development of work placement programmes!
Technical and practically orientated subjects are not the only ones that suffer from an undue emphasis on teaching rather than learning. Subjects such as management, law, financial services suffer also. Colleges and universities around the world turn out tens of thousands of MBAs each year who then enter into senior positions based on the assumption that the degree gives them the background to manage and lead organisations! Many of these degrees do not include direct experience of the way organisations operate holistically but rather whilst at college or university students are taught about just some of the parts of an organisation. Also they are not shown the complex ways in which the parts of the organisation interact with each other. Information is compartmentalised and the learners graduate imprinted with information, limited underlying detail and simplistic models that are partial and inflexible without meaningful questions ‘about what if’.  Most prospective managers or practicing managers are discouraged from recognising and rectifying mistakes whether made by be omission (actually the more important of the mistakes one can make) or on the operational/managerial side. Examples of failure to recognise mistakes by omission include traditional photographic companies that did not anticipate and recognise the advent and subsequent revolution in digital technologies and that IBM did not develop personal and laptop computers. Unrectified mistakes by omission inevitably lead to company liquidation and/or mergers and takeovers.  One learns more by mistakes than by doing the tasks correctly – this being a crucial element of learning on job. Learning by one’s mistakes is surely a fact of life and to paraphrase Karl Popper a negative is more positive than a positive! But the existing culture in organisations is predominately one of not admitting mistakes and this is most certainly true of politicians where it is easier and safer to blame someone else.  The recent global financial crisis has shown the dangers of this over reliance on the existing organisational and management approaches particularly with banks and insurance enterprises.
A number of professions e.g. surgery and other parts of the medical profession have to undertake an internship/junior doctors etc whilst training and this is integrated and an essential part of the programmes and yet studies in law and management seldom include such approaches. Perhaps the entry to degrees such as MBAs should only be allowed after several years in work. The students have become workers and gained valuable experience and can bring that to the programme. The possible sequence could be represented as: initial formal education/training > several years of employment > further formal education. Interestingly before law schools became the norm prospective lawyers and the like learnt their profession in actual practice. Surely it is just a case of achieving a balance between theory and practice through formal learning and direct work experience via internships and apprenticeships.
Another fundamental fault is that many learners/graduates are given a specialised vocabulary/jargon that they do not really understand when applied in the workplace and a set of operating principles/models that are equally inappropriate when having to deal with real-time crises and unfamiliar situations. The models given to students are often dated, inflexible and unable to react quickly enough to rapid changes in the work context and again this is evidenced in the current financial and global turbulence within corporations and international markets.
Future articles on the site will pick up the other issues mentioned in the list above. Little of what I have said is new but on current evidence radical reform is still awaited.
There needs to be an urgent and fundamental review and reform of how teaching and learning occurs at all stages of the education and training system. This time not a think tank BUT a do tank!

James Hole (1820 – 1895)

Sadly little is known about this remarkable individual and as a result he has not received the recognition that he truly deserves in the development of the Mechanics’ Institutions and in his contributions to adult and technical education. The testimony to his commitment and far sighted ideas on the Mechanics’ Institutions movement and adult and technical education is reflected in his seminal essay subsequently published as a book in 1853 (1) for which he received an award from the Society of Arts (SoA/[RSA]. The Society had organised an essay writing competition following their annual conference in May 1852 in which they had discussed the Mechanics’ Institution movement. It is a remarkable piece of work that is still relevant and merits reading today. The essay describes the part played by a number of educational agencies in the teaching of working people. The prize brought Hole to the attention of the Society of Arts and he was instrumental with two other members of the Society namely James Booth and Harry Chester in creating a national examination system (see history of technical and commercial examinations and the biographies).
James Hole was born in London in 1820 and moved to Manchester when still in his youth where he became an active member of the Mechanics’ Institution movement. He then moved to Leeds in the early 1840s writing a large number of books and articles in journals mainly focussing on improving the life of workers particularly through their education. Subjects covered by his writings included co-operative undertakings, housing and his main passion adult education. Hole was an Associationist, a movement pre-dating that of the  Fabians, which advocated the benefits that would be realised by the best use of existing and emerging associations in the community, state-fostered or voluntary, to improve society. Hole argued strongly that everyone, and most certainly the working class, had a right to education. He continually argued that education was not a privilege but an absolute right. In spite of the fact that Hole had reservations he argued that a national system was essential as a wholly voluntary system was inadequate. He argued cogently that the government should provide funds at national and local levels although he expressed reservations about state control and the dangers of intervention and interference from the politicians. Hole was critical of the government’s earlier attempts to subsidise schools but praised the benefits of local and voluntary efforts by comparing ‘day work’ and ‘piece work’ in the businesses and factories. He felt that Mechanics’ Institutions should be supported by
central government but that they should not be in competition with government schools.He became very involved in adult education and the Mechanics’ Institutions in Leeds and Yorkshire holding the post of Honorary Secretary of the Yorkshire Union of Institutes between 1848 and 1857. In that capacity he became the most knowledgeable person about the Mechanics’ Institution movement. The essay referred to above provided a very systematic, detailed and reasoned analysis of the Institutions highlighting their weaknesses, benefits and potential. Hole did not write about education policy preferring to survey the educational agencies that were associated with worker education in Leeds. Agencies and institutions described in the essay included day and evening schools, Sunday schools, criminal and pauper education agencies and Mechanics’ Institutions. He was a very loyal, committed and highly regarded citizen of Leeds. A rare portrait of James Hole is shown below kindly sent to me by his great-great granddaughter Tina Ash.
J Hole
He established an itinerant village library service in 1852 operated by the Yorkshire Union of Mechanic’s Institutions The travelling library issued boxes of fifty books every six months to subscribers who paid one penny per week. This invaluable service continued for over forty years.
As mentioned above Hole was instrumental with Booth and Chester in creating the Society of Arts examinations. Chester and Hole saw that an examination system could be a useful way of improving the effectiveness and management of the Mechanics’ Institutions. These two individuals began the development and James Booth then implemented the examination system. Hole felt that examinations were a relatively simple but essential way of reforming and improving the performance of the Institutions. Equally important was to provide high quality instruction for workers that prepared them for work and as members for society. Hole felt that the main weakness of the Mechanics’ Institutions was that they had adopted the wrong form of instruction. The three most common methods of learning were the library, lectures and class teaching. He observed that class teaching was the most effective but too often there were few good teachers and suitable classrooms. Other weaknesses highlighted included the mechanics’ inadequate elementary education and their reluctance to stay the course although in many cases this was understandable (see history of technical education). Accepting these weaknesses Hole felt that examinations could bring about improvements and act as a motivator. In his essay he proposed the creation of a national Union of Institutes and its examiners would establish greater confidence through the introduction of a comprehensive system of examinations rather than the somewhat divisive awarding of certificates of proficiency that often created ill-feeling amongst the learners.
Eventually he returned to London in 1867 where he died in 1895. Two years before his death is published a book on national railways arguing for a state owned system.
It is time to recognise more fully this remarkable individual and his thoughts, ideas and achievements on adult, social and technical education.
(1). Hole. J. ‘Light, More Light!’ on the Present State of Education Amongst the Working Classes of Leeds Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts. 1860.
Foden. F. ‘The Examiner –James Booth and the origin of common examinations’. Leeds Studies in Adult and Continuing Education. 1989.

Henry Cole (1808 – 1882)

Born in Bath in 1808 Henry Cole was a designer, writer, noted inventor and civil servant who was responsible for a number of innovations in commerce and art design education. He was educated at Christ’s Hospital, London and at the age of 15 years worked at the Public Records Department as an assistant keeper and was responsible for a number of reforms improving the preservation arrangements for what at the time were ill-preserved materials housed in the British National Archives. He was also an assistant to Rowland Hill between 1837 and 1840 and played an important part in the introduction of the penny black postage service. He also wrote a number of children’s books as well as on some famous buildings in London under the pseudonym of Felix Summerly. Throughout his life he was very interested in design and established an art manufacturing company and was responsible for designing a number of artifacts including a tea service manufactured by Minton. He was also responsible in 1843 for producing the first commercial Christmas card designed by John Callcott Horsley.
His involvement in education arose from his membership of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce [R]SA. Under the auspices of the [R]SA and the support of the Prince Consort he organised in 1847 an Exhibition of Art Manufactures which was subsequently staged and enhanced in the following two years. Following a visit to the 11th Quinquennial Paris Exhibition he highlighted the absence of international exhibitors. The Society was planning to stage exhibitions in 1850 and 1851 and he argued strongly for these to have an international dimension. As a result the Royal Commission for the 1851 Exhibition was established that led to the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations held in 1851. As the History of Technical Education identifies, a number of positive outcomes for the development of art, science and technical education in Britain arose from the 1851 Exhibition. Henry Cole played a significant part in its success and with the support of the Prince Consort and Lyon Playfair (see biography) used the surpluses from the Exhibition to purchase land in South Kensington that led to the development of a number of educational and cultural centres. Cole also developed a national system for art and design education. He was appointed the first General Superintendent of the Department of Practical Art established by the government to improve the development of industrial art and design. Many perceived Cole as an authoritarian person and argued that his appointments were often based on political and royal patronage. He was reputably a difficult man to get on with and had his favourites and surprisingly showed little interested in science. He did not particularly get on with Lyon Playfair when working together on the organisation of the Great Exhibition and on other occasions when they were required to work together (1). He was involved in the creation of the Victoria and Albert Museum which was formally called the Museum of Ornamental Art based in Marlborough House. Eventually the new museum was re located to South Kensington and called the South Kensington Museum which finally became the Victoria  and Albert museum. Cole was also involved in the creation of the Royal College of Art which was a postgraduate design institution. the Royal College of Music and Imperial College.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) and knighted in 1875. During his working life he received great encouragement and patronage from the Prince Consort.
(1)    Foden. F. ‘The Examiner. James Booth and the origins on common examinations’. Leeds Studies in Adult and Continuing Education. 1989.
General references:
Cole Henry. Cole. ‘Fifty Years of public Work’. Bell. 1884.
Bonython. E. and Burton. A. ‘The Great Exhibitor: The Life and Work of Henry Cole’. V and A. London. 2003.
Obituary of Henry Cole. Times. 1882.

The Pitman Dynasty. Isaac, Benn, Jacob and James Pitman.

I. Pitman
One of the inevitable consequences of the Industrial Revolution was the growth in the commercial, clerical and administrative support that business organisations required. The history of the developments and the individuals associated with the creation of commercial and business processes is as interesting as the history of technical education. During the 18th century manufacturing, commercial and financial services enterprises, both small and large, developed at a rapid rate. The need to communicate increased exponentially and this necessitated more efficient and effective methods of managing business correspondence to customers and clients. Whether in cotton mills, heavy industrial companies, the rapidly expanding civil service and the military, managers increasingly wanted a quicker way of recording their instructions to their staff/secretaries before these records were composed and transcribed into appropriate correspondence or other commercial/business documents.
Samuel Taylor had developed a shorthand system in 1786, which was based on an earlier system devised by John Byrom. However it was the system created by Isaac Pitman that was to revolutionise this important and essential aid to commercial and business activity.
The defining characteristics of Isaac Pitman and indeed his brothers were very similar to those of the other great pioneers of the Industrial revolution largely self-taught, highly motivated, hard working, very innovative and creative. He was born in Trowbridge in 1813; son of a hand loom weaver, leaving school reluctantly at 13 and then worked as a clerk in a textile mill. However in spite of working 12 hour days he and his brother Jacob studied at home before going to work at 6 am and continued studying in the evenings after work. He qualified as a teacher and taught in a number of schools before founding his own school in Wotton-under-Edge in 1837.
It was during this period that he published his book ‘Stenographic Sound-Hand’ in 1837 followed in 1840 by ‘Phonography’ the latter publication often referred to as the Penny Plate. This publication become the first correspondence course and was initially free of charge – the penny was just the cost of the postage. Pitman was passionate about education most of all and wanted to “educate anyone of any class from anywhere who could read and had a desire to learn”
These seminal publications laid the foundations for his famous shorthand system which was adopted worldwide ultimately and translated into over thirty languages.
The Pitman approach like the earlier and later shorthand systems was based on the phonetic system namely the symbols represent sounds as opposed to letters and are mainly written as the words are spoken. The Pitman system quickly became the most popular and widely used shorthand in Britain, the US and around the world. In 1870 he opened the Pitman’s Metropolitan College probably the first business education school in the world. The Pitman shorthand system was adopted by the parliamentary stenographers to prepare Hansard. He founded a company called Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons which became one of the world’s leading educational publishing and training businesses.
 His brothers greatly assisted the cascading of the system and were remarkable individuals in their own right. Benn went to America in 1853 and introduced the shorthand to the country and later became a famous engraver, court reporter and then entered the world of design, working to develop art and design education in America. He reported many famous court cases including the trial of the assassin of President Lincoln. Benn published extensively reflecting his interests and court experiences. Jacob went to Australia in 1837 where he too introduced the Pitman’s shorthand system whilst pursuing his initial training as a builder and architect specialising in building bridges.
Isaac Pitman was a perfectionist and continually revised and improved the system over many years up to his death in 1897 leaving a system which today is still widely respected and used throughout the world.
Sir Isaac Pitman’s grandson James Pitman, born in 1901, continued the family business and was chairman and joint managing director of the Pitman Press and Pitman Publishing companies. His career included the civil service, publishing, politician (representing Bath) and spelling reformer. He invented the Initial Teaching Alphabet (ITA) and wrote extensively on the teaching of English. He served on the Management Committee of the Institute of Education, London and was Pro-Chancellor of the University of Bath.
A remarkable family.
A short chronology of the development of shorthand and stenography:
1588. ‘Characterie: An Arte of Shorte, Swifte and Secrete Writing by Character.’ T. Bright.
1602. ‘Art of Stenography’ by J. Willis published.
1742. Byrom’s shorthand system copyrighted.
1767. ‘Universal English Shorthand’ by Byrom published.
1786. ‘Essay to establish standard for a universal system of stenography’ by S. Taylor published.
1810. Jacob Pitman born (died in 1890).
1813. Isaac Pitman born (died 1897).
1822. Benn Pitman born (died 1910).
1829. Isaac Pitman took up Taylor’s system.
1837. ‘Stenography Sound-Hand’ by Pitman published. Pitman shorthand became the first subject to be taught by correspondence. Jacob Pitman introduced system in Australia.
1839. Phonetic Institute opened in Bath by Isaac Pitman.
1843 Phonographic Correspondence Society created in the UK.
1845. Isaac Pitman established his first printing press.
1851. Isaac Pitman won bronze medal at the Great Exhibition.
1852. Benn Pitman introduced the Pitman system in America.
1864. The (R)SA introduces shorthand examinations.
1870. Pitman’s Metropolitan School opened in London.
1888. Oxford Local Examining Board introduces shorthand examinations.
1889. Pitman system was recognised by the government in the “Technical Instruction Act”.
1894. Isaac Pitman knighted.
1921. Pitman Commercial Examinations Department created.
Baker. A. ‘The Life of Sir Isaac Pitman (Inventer of Phonography).’ ISBN-13 978-1178 384147. Nabu Press 2010.
Pitman. B. ‘Sir Isaac Pitman. Life and Labours’. ISBN-13 978-05480 46944. Kessinger Press. 2007.
Encyclopedia Britannica. Sir Isaac Pitman.

Public Awareness and General Understanding of Science and Technology


The need to raise awareness and a greater general understanding of science and technology is now irrefutable as we live in a world increasingly dominated by science and its applications. Sadly there is still a great deal of misunderstanding and ignorance of science and technology mirroring in many ways the continuing problems with the basic skills in literary, numeracy and information technology capability. I fully accept that many of the following issues have been aired before but hope this article will trigger further constructive debate on this important subject. Schools, colleges and universities have a major role to play in this endeavour but with the need to establish a culture of lifelong learning other agencies must be involved and that most certainly includes the media. I prefer to use the expression ‘general understanding of science and technology’ as opposed to ‘public understanding of science and technology’. The latter can reinforce the false demarcation between science and the public namely between a sect or guild of scientists and the stereotyping of the rest of the populace.

The commentators/communicators.

So, who should be the key players to bring about a greater understanding of science and technology? One view held is that practising scientists and technologists and researchers should take the lead. Many commentators argue that these practitioners should be trained to become more effective communicators and money allocated from research funds to facilitate this for those individuals who wish to engage in this activity. I fear this approach is somewhat flawed, as many of the researchers are understandably reluctant or unable to communicate their subject to members of the public. Researchers want to conduct their research and are not necessarily required to explain their discoveries, hypotheses and theories. Many feel that the very act of attempting to do so debases and dilutes the purity of their subject. It is one of the elements of the Guild of Science that is often perceived as a closed and somewhat inward-looking academic community, and I would argue in many cases should be respected. Effective communicators are a rare breed who have to possess a very special range of talents, especially in such a complex multicultural and multidimensional topic as raising general understanding of science and technology.
Other approaches need to be explored when attempting to communicate a wider understanding of scientific and technological advances and developments and there possible impact on the world. Joseph Needham used the wonderful expression ‘an ecumenical universe of science and technology, valid for every man and women on the face of the earth’. I take this to mean that science and technology cannot be divorced from other subjects. The evolutionary roots of science and technology are multicultural and they are very much multidimensional subjects and interact with art, experience, history, philosophy, politics and religion. Joseph Needham showed these important and crucial connections and bridges in his seminal and monumental work ‘Science and Civilisation in China’. An essential element must be the evolution of the subjects and also the critical contributions made by other civilisations e.g. Chinese, Greek, Indian, Middle Eastern and Roman. Joseph Needham succeeded in building bridges between different disciplines, civilisations and nations. Too often the media, books and science commentators adopt a western centric approach where other cultures’ contributions are underplayed, ignored or dare one suggest, the authors are themselves ignorant about.
This is not to say that there have not been some gifted scientists, commentators and popularisers of science and technology. Names that immediately spring to mind include Frank Close, Richard Feynman, Murray Gell-Mann, Martin Rees , Russell Stannard and the late great Jacob Bronowski but there are, sadly, very few and I feel this kind of proposal will not bring about the hoped-for changes. Very often non- scientists who possess an enthusiasm for the subjects can be the best communicators of science and its associated dimensions. A good example of this are Melvyn Bragg’s radio programmes and the subsequent publications based on the broadcasts.

Role of the mass media.

The mass media have a significant role to play in raising awareness and a critical understanding of science and technology in society. This is particularly the case at present with issues of global warming, possible flu pandemics, genetic engineering, GM foods, possible health hazards of mobile phones and mobile phone masts and water shortages. Too often for example TV programmes use hype and whiz bang approaches with special effects and theatricalisation of events that often trivialise the significance of the issues. They are too eager to impress the viewer, further reinforcing the sense that science is mysterious, weird and incomprehensible. The media too often fail to inform and encourage insight and critical analysis in the readers and viewers. Too often the media are only interested in stories and sadly scientific and technological research has become fair game just to provide mere stories. A recent example was the launching of the hadron accelerator at CERN where a great deal of the information given in the media was the possibility of the generation of black holes and the destruction of the earth! Too often the public are confused with contradictory and paradoxical statements as a result of the reporting of research findings in the media and on the internet and is often at a loss to make a balanced judgement on the issues presented. Surely popularisers should be explainers, stimulate and sustain curiosity and bring about general understanding in scientific and technological issues and topics that can be related to people’s lives. One particular challenge for the communicators is to avoid trivialising the subject or patronising the audience in their explanations. They should transmit the basic concepts and relate them to applications of science and technology.
Programmes on cosmology e.g. the big bang, black holes and natural history e.g. dinosaurs, theories of evolution attract large audiences. But surely the fundamental question raised by these well received programmes is whether or not they add to the general understanding of the basic concepts and principles that underpin science and technology? Such programmes awake interest and curiosity and offer real opportunities for building bridges from that to a greater and more sustained general understanding of the underpinning scientific and technological principles.
Two fascinating subjects associated with linguistics namely lexicical complexity and information theory highlight some of the factors that figure in communication in both the written and spoken form. I will only briefly mention some elements that relate to the issues associated with communication of science and technology and  cannot hope to do justice to this fascinating area of linguistics .For example information theory identifies some of the problems that popular science and technical journals and newspapers have when attempting to communicate information about science and technology. Science and technology, by, definition, can be dominated by specialised jargon and abstractions. Information theory has shown that different languages, general and specialised, possess a wide range of so-called redundancy, namely that the same word can have different meanings. For example the English language possesses great richness and this has evolved over a long period of time. The English language is high in redundancy and has as a result allowed its literature to possess great richness and super abundance in its vocabulary and in the skilled hands and imaginations of many writers has created a highly admired tradition. After all many dictionaries and Roget’s Thesaurus identify and map the evolution of the meaning of words that are continually changing but scientific and technological terms and words remain the same. This is because scientific and technological terms and words must have specific and unchanging meanings. A simple example is in the words mass and weight. In everyday language these words are used loosely but in science have precise and different meanings. Other examples are energy, force, pressure, strain, stress and work. Clearly in addition to these very fundamental words science and technology like many other disciplines create their only specialised languages.
A fascinating piece of research on lexical complexity in 1992 by Hayes attempted to quantify the degree of lexical complexity by carrying out a careful analysis of the proportions of jargon and uncommon words in various publications. Hayes assigned an arbitrary scale, for example, to English newspapers, 0 being the average. Any value under 10 is considered to be a typical day’s read and comprehended by the majority of the population.
He computed a range of values for a typical day (3rd June 1992) and these were as follows:
The Sun -11. Daily Mail -2.7. The Economist 0. The Times +3.4. The Guardian +5.5. The Financial Times +9.6.
He then extended his analysis to scientific journals:
Nature attracted an index of +40 and Scientific American, often perceived as effective reading material for the lay person, had an index of +15. Other more specialised journals had indices in excess of +50.
Obviously these high scores are understandable, but ensure that only specialists can hope to comprehend the content of these publications. The critical issue and challenge for the general understanding of science and many elements of technology is how journals like the New Scientist, Scientist American and other publications can communicate the concepts, ideas, theories and hypotheses to the general reader. A real challenge now is the management and transmission of such information on the internet where often little refereeing or validation is exercised. Not easy, because science and technology have their own language, with zero or little redundancy and the additional need to use mathematics adds to the challenge and difficulty in communicating the reality of the material. This challenging prospect, I feel, merits more research if we are to improve the way we create a greater awareness and general understanding of these strategically important subjects.
A continuing concern is how the public perceive scientists. Too often a particular stereotype is projected by the media, in films, television and the press. This in some ways reached an apogee in the brilliant portrayal of Dr Pretorius – played by Ernest Thesiger, in James Whales’ classic film ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ – an eccentric, frizzy haired, white coated individual obsessed with his research with little regard to the impact of his work on society. This image continues, although not so extreme, when science spokespeople appear on the media to explain some of the high profile cases cited above, they often come over as being distant and unable, certainly unsuccessful in communicating the basic ideas to the audience.

The role of education and training.

The role of education is critical in sustaining and developing an understanding of science and technology but perhaps some of the problems could arise from negative experiences at school, namely the impression that science and technological subjects are difficult when compared with other subjects. It is too often taught in a mathematical and abstract fashion. Many people cannot easily relate to scientific and technological ideas. Science is both practical and theoretical and at school and college, students are required undertake practical work, but the results are already known and usually reinforced by the presence of a text book stating the method, procedures and the result! It is therefore not surprising that many people perceive science as absolute and pre-determined and not much to do with curiosity. The heuristic approach developed by Henry Armstrong used a more open ended research-like methodology that could support a more sustained and clearer understanding of the subjects. Practical work should involve greater use of field work and the resources of museums and scientific and technological theme parks. As increasing numbers of people, particularly young people, access information from the internet on such sites as Wikipedia there is a need to develop a greater critical faculty in students so that they question the validity and authenticity of material on the internet and go in search of wider evidence.
Measuring performance improvement.
Another factor is how to gauge general understanding of science and technology? I have problems with some techniques to assess improvement and understanding, many of which ultimately resort to league tables and performance indices. After all we seem at present to have performance indicators and league tables for practically every activity in this country or are in the process of jettisoning them.
So how do we assess and gauge the general understanding of science and technology and its improvement over time? Simple questionnaires or surveys reduce the exercise to a form of Ask the Family, Who Wants to be a Millionaire or Mastermind. Most often these require just simple recall about the names of planets or who discovered gravitation etc. The crucial question is the person’s wider and more substantial understanding of the topic. This shows development of a critical faculty and the ability to more fully appreciate the foundations of the information and what it means through analysis, reflection and synthesis. This in a sense brings us full circle, and possibly there now needs to be a re-consideration of what we mean by the word understanding in this context.
Science and technological advance is not helped by the advocates and supporters of para-science and the doom merchants who assert that science and technology is destroying the planet and scare mongering about the end of the earth. It’s headline grabbing news but it does not improve the image of the subjects or engender a greater understanding of the issues associated with these often important issues.


As our lives become ever more dominated by science and technology the critical issues associated with science and technology become more important, indeed essential. It is a great challenge for the science community, the media and equally important for all people in education and training, to start building the bridges from the inherent interest and curiosity in science and technology that people possess to a greater understanding of these important subjects. Whatever happens, it clearly is important that we continue to seek ways, through formal and informal education and training and lifelong learning, to bring about a greater general understanding of science and technology among the public and it is essential that we ourselves know what the word understanding means in this context.
This article is an updated version of two previously published pieces that appeared in ‘Technology Innovation and Society’ titled ‘Public Awareness of Science and Technology’ published in Summer 1996 and ‘Bridges to Understanding’ in ‘Science and Public Affairs’ published in December 1999 . I am grateful for permission of the original publishers to use large sections of the earlier material.

The ‘Andersonian’ – The First Technical College.

The “Andersonian” was initiated and lived on under its various names – Anderson’s Institution, Anderson’s University and Anderson’s College. The Glasgow Mechanics’ Institution which was an offshoot from it, and more recently the two combined (with Allan Glen’s School) as the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College. They all have occupied a significant place in Scottish education. The influence of these pioneering institutions on technical education cannot be over estimated.
Founded in 1796 the Anderson’s Institute was the first technical college to provide scientific instruction with particular reference to the practical application of scientific ideas. The institution was the first in the world to provide systematic evening classes in science and its application and the first to admit women unreservedly on the same terms as men. Its influence was wide spread e.g. in 1799 Count Rumford founded the Royal Institution in London based on similar lines to the Anderson’s Institution.
John Anderson (1726 – 1796) (1, 2) was initially professor of oriental languages but later occupied a chair in Natural Philosophy (1757 – 1796) at Glasgow University (founded in 1450). Anderson was an individual of great energy and held some radical views about teaching. He felt that Natural Philosophy was not just a branch of mathematics which was a view held by many academics at this time but he argued in his ‘Institutes of Physics’ (published in 1786) * that the teaching of the subject must include more practical and experimental aspects. He decided to put his ideas into practice. In addition to his regular University teaching four days a week he taught the other two days the new approach teaching the subject experimentally. The lectures on the four days were focussed on the history of Physics and Reasoning concerning facts of the material world involving plane and solid geometry, arithmetic and algebra. The new approach was very different on the other two days. No mathematical reasoning was employed in the lectures and the practical lessons and the only text book used was the ‘Institutes of Physics’*. His portrait is shown below.
John Anderson
 In addition to his professorial duties he continued to develop his radical ideas of education and delivered a series of part-time evening lectures in applied science for working class people. He strongly believed that these classes were for the benefit of ‘the Manufacturers and Artificers in Glasgow’. The lectures proved very popular and he provided free tickets to encourage such trades as bookbinders, brewers, engravers, founders, gardeners and turners to attend. A radical and visionary in every sense he was often in conflict with the university authorities. When he died he decided to leave his estate, valued at the time as £1000, to a trust dedicated to the creation of a rival university. The Andersonian Institution was founded ‘for the good of mankind, and the improvement of science’. The bequest was insufficient to fund a new university but in 1796 the Andersonian Institute was established which gradually progressed through a number of different titles, (see below), and ultimately became the Glasgow Royal College of Science and Technology. George Birkbeck was at one time a professor at the Institute (1799) and he continued to provide free classes in chemistry and mechanics (see biographies). Birkbeck’s work was continued with the same zeal by Dr Andrew Ure after Birkbeck left Glasgow. Dr Ure continued the lectures for the workers and in addition created a library in 1808 that further enhanced the reputation and standing of the Institution.
This ultimately led on to the creation of the Mechanics Institute movement. The Anderson’s Institute was in many ways the prototype for what would later become the Mechanics Institute movement in Scotland, England and beyond. The lectures continued until 1823 when the Anderson’s Institute decided to move the provision to a new independent organisation namely the Glasgow Mechanics’ Institution. The Glasgow Mechanics’ Institute was housed in a disused chapel and comprised a lecture room, library and a collection of scientific apparatus. Classes included such subjects as chemistry, mechanics, mathematics and natural philosophy. The numbers in the mechanics classes gradually declined and the trustees of the Andersonian Institution decided to implement some of the original ideas of John Anderson and formed a collegiate school with distinct groups of students for each of the elementary classes. In 1828 the Institution assumed the title of Anderson’s University. A portrait of Dr Ure is shown below he and Birkbeck were two remarkable individuals.
Dr Ure
Interesting to note that Edinburgh had in 1821 already established the Edinburgh School of Arts, which in spite of its title was a Mechanics Institute and in strict historical terms was the first institution in the movement in Britain. The Edinburgh School of Arts was funded by the rich and leading figures of the town. However what makes the Glasgow Institute distinctive was that it was financially self-supporting and self-governing where even the lecturers were elected by the general body of the members. The Glasgow Mechanics’ Institute enrolled over a thousand students in its first year. This example again clearly highlights that Scotland was most certainly the leader within the home countries in technical education. John Anderson was a remarkable individual with a great deal of foresight.
Sexton (2) delineates the various titles that attached to the Andersonian Institution up to 1894 as follows:
·         Anderson’s Institution -1798 to 1828
·         Anderson’s College Medical School – 1800+
·         Anderson’s University – 1828 to 1877
·         Technical College Weaving Branch – 1877+
·         Anderson’s College – 1877 to 1887
·         Mechanics’ Institution and College of Science and Arts– 1823 to 1887
·         Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College 1887+
A brief chronology:
·         1796 – Anderson’s Institution founded. Dr Garnett appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy.
·         1799 – Anderson’s Medical School established
·         1800 – Dr Birkbeck appointed
·         1804 – Dr Ure appointed
·         1819 – Chair of Botany established
·         1823 – The Glasgow Mechanics’ Institution succeeded the Anderson’s Institution to become the first Mechanics’ Institution possessing that name and the first in the world.
·         1825 – Chair of Mathematics established
·         1830 – Chairs of Chemistry and Natural Philosophy separated
·         Around 1830 – The first public laboratory for teaching chemistry in Britain opened at the Glasgow Mechanics’ Institution.
·         1840 – Chair of Theory of Medicine established
·         1843 – Allan Glen’s School founded
·         1870 – Chair of Technical Chemistry established
·         1875 – Chair of Applied Mechanics established
·         1877 – Name changed to Anderson’s College
·         1877 – Technical College (Weaving Branch) opened
·         1880 – Mechanics’ Institution reorganised as a Technical College
·         1881 – Name changed to College of Science and Arts
·         1886 – Merger of Institutions to form the Technical College
·         1887 – Chair of Metallurgy established
·         1889 – Anderson’s College Medical School, Partick, opened
·         1891 – Chair of Agriculture opened.
* ‘Institutes of Physics’ this book proved to be very popular and went to five editions in his lifetime. The book consisted of fifteen chapters namely (1) Somatology (the science of the properties of matter/human body), (2) Mineralogy, (3) Botany, (4) Zoology, (5) Electricity, (6) Magnetism, (7) Gravitation, (8) Mechanics, (9) Hydrostatics, (10) Hydraulics, (11) Pneumatics, (12) Optics, (13) Astronomy, (14) Cosmogony (theory or myth of the origin of the universe) and (15) Conclusions which consisted of a vast set of tables of contents under the heading of Natural Philosophy.
Glasgow also established The Commercial College in 1845 and this was subsequently called Glasgow Commercial College and Glasgow Athenaeum Commercial College. In 1903 this became the Glasgow and West of Scotland Commercial College. Again this reinforces the progressive view in Scotland to commercial education.
(1) J. Muir. Ed. By J.M.Macaulay. ‘John Anderson and the College He Founded’ Glasgow. 1950
(2) A.H. Sexton. ‘The First Technical College’ The History of the “Andersonian” and the Institutions Descended From It 1796 – 1894. London: Chapman and Hall, Ld. 1894.

Society for the Promotion of Employment of Women 1859+

The majority of women during most of the time of this history were unskilled working class. They worked in factories, in the fields and in domestic services carrying out menial tasks with no opportunity for education or training. This sorry and lamentable state of affairs was recorded in literature by Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. In addition whilst researching and writing the history of technical and commercial education I became acutely aware of the dearth of literature on women’s education and equally concerning the very narrow and stereotypical view of their role and position in society and employment. What educational provision was available was centred on domestic service or as a means of preparation for marriage and house wives- whatever that meant! Other areas open to women were lowly paid positions as governesses, lady’s companions or seamstresses. The lack of opportunities to enter the professions or other areas of employment other than those associated with domestic service for the landed gentry or menial clerical positions was almost non-existent for most of the 19th century. Where colleges and other institutions existed they inevitably provided opportunities for upper and middle class females. Unfortunately there are still gender inequality issues even today and the presence of the so called glass ceiling still exists in spite of legislation in many occupations and professions.
However there were a few isolated initiatives in the mid 19th century which identified and highlighted these inequalities and injustices for women particularly in regard to the lack of education opportunities and progression into the professions and other more highly respected areas of employment. One such movement was the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women and was founded in 1859. In 1926 the Society was later re-named the Society for Promoting the Training of Women and is still in existence today. The Society was founded by a remarkable individual Jessie Boucherett (1825-1905) who recognised the urgent need to open up new areas of employment for women and tackle the dire state of education for females that existed at the time. One of the main aims of the Society was to assist women to become economically independent through more meaningful employment opportunities. In order to assist and realise this aim the Society offered interest free loans to help cover the costs of their education and training and this activity has continued up to the present time.
 The Society has had many remarkable supporters and members including Harriet Martineau [see biography] whom I have already acknowledged as an active supporter with Charles Knight and Henry Brougham [see biographies] of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Harriet Martineau had written an article in the Edinburgh Review – founded by Henry Brougham that inspired Jessie Boucherett to establish the Society. Harriet Martineau wrote that ‘three million out of six adult English women work for subsistence, and two out of three in independence. With this new condition of affairs, new duties and new views must be accepted’. The impact on Jessie Boucherett was significant and she wrote later in a pamphlet commemorating the Society’s twentieth anniversary that she would ‘ resolve to make it the business of her life to remedy or at least alleviate the evil by helping self-dependent women, not with gifts of money, but with encouragement and training for employment suited to their capabilities’. The Society can claim many firsts including the establishment of the first commercial school offering book-keeping and shorthand classes as well as creating apprenticeship and subsequent employment opportunities in male dominated trades and crafts including horology, photography and telegraphy. The Society also managed to gain membership grades for women in a number of Professional Institutions including Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Society of Incorporated Accountants and Auditors. The archive of the Society is sited at the Girton College Library in Cambridge.
I intend to describe the progress of the education of working women particular in the technical and commercial occupations in a separate history.

James Booth (1806?-1879)

Rev James Booth (1806?-1879)

Born in Lavagh in Ireland James Booth attended Trinity College Dublin (founded in 1592) to study mathematics. Trinity College was a highly regarded institution and possessed a considerable reputation among other universities in Europe particularly in Mathematics and Astronomy with such distinguished individuals as Bartholemew Lloyd, William Hamilton, James McCullagh and John Brinkley. Interesting that Trinity College already had a well-established examination system which subsequently influenced James Booth later with his work for the Society of Arts (SoA/[R]SA. It most be noted too that Ireland produced many remarkable individuals who made major contributions to astronomy, engineering, mathematics and the physical sciences. Although a number had to emigrate to England and America because of limited opportunities within Ireland they enriched these countries with their considerable talents. Some of the contributions made by Irish scientists are recorded in the book entitled ‘Science in Ireland’ (1).
Booth left Ireland for England somewhat disillusioned after unjustifiably failing to gain a Fellowship at Trinity. He felt strongly that his mathematical work was not given the recognition that in rightly deserved. After a year he was appointed Principal and Professor of Mathematics at Bristol College. He left Bristol College to take up a post as Assistant Principal at the Liverpool Collegiate Institution where he continued his mathematical research and teaching. During his period at Liverpool he became a member of the Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Society in 1844and its President in 1846. During this period he travelled a great deal to London giving lectures at the Royal Society for which, along with his other mathematical researches on conic sections and coordinates, he received a Fellowship of the Society in 1846. Booth left Liverpool in1848 and went to London where he became an active member of the Society of Arts. He was also involved in establishing the Mechanics Institute in Wandsworth in 1853. A print of the Liverpool Collegiate Institution is shown below.
Liverpool Collegiate Institution
 James Booth became a major figure during the Victorian times as a propagator of the concept of universal popular examinations. He was ordained into the Church of England and although a deeply religious man achieved little in this vocation. His legacy was very much associated with the work he did with the Society of Arts, technical education and the examinations he introduced. The Society of Arts  (SoA/[RSA] had been founded in 1754.Booth was a very strong believer in free trade and competition the principles of which he wished to apply to an examination system. He subsequently became the key figure in getting the Society to stage public examinations. Booth more than any other person was responsible in establishing the Society of Arts as an examining organisation. In addition to Booth two other individuals can be identified as responsible for introducing examinations at the Society of Arts, namely Harry Chester and James Hole. James Hole was a very active member of the Mechanics Institute movement whilst Harry Chester was the key figure in the creation of the Union of Institutes (see history of technical and commercial examinations). All of these individuals advocated the importance of examinations in order to improve the effectiveness and management of the Mechanics Institutes. Foden (2) states ‘that Chester and Hole set the ball rolling in regard to the Society of Arts examinations whilst Booth gave the development direction and momentum’.
Between 1853 and 1857 Booth mapped out his ideas for the examinations that the Society of Arts would later stage. To give some idea of the proposals and the way the examinations would be managed I quote from Frank Foden’s excellent account of his life (2): The outline proposals were:
  • ‘ Examinations would be held annually, probably in March at convenient places and in different districts, the Institutions in different districts being grouped for the purpose
  • Examinations would be conducted simultaneously by papers prepared by the Examiners in London
  • Every candidate for examination shall have been, for a certain period (sat six months) a student of a class in an Institute in Union
  • A Local Committee, possessing the confidence of the Institutes at each place of examination, should receive papers, be responsible for the efficient and fair conduct of the examination, and return the worked papers by post to the Board of Examiners in London
  • The worked papers approved by the examiners would be divided into three classes, according to merit, 1st, 2nd and 3rd and corresponding certificates would be issued to successful candidates
  • The certificate should record the name and age of the candidate, the number of lessons attended out of the number given, subject of the examination and the result of the examination
  • No certificate should be awarded for any paper which gave evidence of only a smattering of knowledge, however extensive, or which was not well spelt, and fairly written
  • 1st class certificates should be very cautiously awarded, so as to indicate a high standard of solid attainment
  • A list of suitable subjects for examination should be prepared for approval by the “Conference”. Candidates might enter for any subject offered, but no candidate, after his first examination, might take up more than two subjects in the same year; a thorough knowledge of one or two subjects being far more important than superficial acquaintance with subjects.
This list highlights the vigorous approach Booth expected from the examination system. The examinations consisted of four sections and candidates sat two papers of two-and-half hours duration. Male candidates had a choice between two groups of topics: first consisting of such subjects Building and Agriculture, Elementary Physics, and Mechanics and the second offered: Anatomy, Meteorology, Physics and Physiology. For female candidates there were papers including Everyday Life and Conditions, Physiology and Domestic Economy.
A recent view of Trinity College Dublin where Booth studied mathematics is shown opposite.
Trinity college Dublin
The first examinations were held on 10th June 1856 in the Society’s Great Room. Booth was at this time was chairman of the Society of Arts Board of Examiners. The second round of examinations was held in June 1857, in London and Huddersfield with 80 and 140 candidates respectively. More subjects were added including specialist divisions of science and mathematics. In addition non-scientific and mathematical subjects were introduced e.g. Bookkeeping, English, French, Geography and History. The examinations grew in popularity and thus began the examinations system we know today. The development of examinations was largely due to James Booth and the Society of Arts and a few other enthusiasts. The examinations of the Society of Arts subsequently had a significant influence on the development of the Oxford and Cambridge examination system.
Unfortunately his relationships with the Society of Arts soured and he parted from the Society with a great deal of bad feeling and acrimony. Sadly he died a somewhat bitter man feeling he had not received the recognition he deserved both as an educator and mathematician. There is an uncanny resemblance with the life of Charles Babbage who also felt undervalued in his time. However history now recognises Booth as the major figure in creating the English examination system and also as an exceptional example of a pioneer of technical education and ‘diffuser of useful knowledge’ (a term much used in Victorian times and by later historians).
(1)   Nudds. J, McMillan. N, Weaire D and McKenna Lawlor. S. ‘Science in Ireland 1800-1930 – Tradition and Reform’ Trinity College. 1988.
(2)   F. Foden ‘The Examiner. James Booth and the origins of common examinations’. Leeds Studies in Adult and Continuing Education. 1989.
 First published in ‘t’ Magazine in August 2008 by kind permission of Simon Shaw (editor).

Warrington Academy and the Academy Movement


The existence of the small number of dissenting academies made a lasting contribution to scientific and technical education particularly through their former students and tutors. They emphasised scientific and technological subjects which at the time were shunned by the established universities. The academies taught laypeople as well as those wishing to enter the church. The Academy founded in Warrington (1756-1786) is a good example of the movement the image above of the Academy is c 1762. The Academy was supported and funded by the newly affluent industrialists from Warrington and beyond who were disillusioned by the standard of education provided by Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The examinations and the resultant value of degrees from these two ancient universities were perceived as questionable. One of the few exceptions was the mathematics course at Cambridge which had tutored Newton. These business people sponsored the academies and wanted to see subjects introduced into the curriculum that would improve the effectiveness and efficiency of commercial and industrial practices and processes. As a result Warrington Academy offered such subjects as chemistry, electricity, logic, magnetism, mathematics, optics, pneumatics as well as the more traditional subjects such as ethics, philosophy and theology. The Academy taught just 400 students in its 29 years of existence and it was never financially secure. Only about 16% of the students studied theological subjects in order to enter the church. The Warrington Academy was finally dissolved in 1786 as a result of continuing financial problems and the hostility of religious bodies to new scientific ideas. However its influence continued to live on after its closure mainly through the subsequent achievements of its former students and tutors. These included Joseph Priestley tutor at Warrington Academy (1761), formally a student at the Daventry Academy (1752), an active member of the Lunar Society and noted chemist. Joseph Priestley was a non-conformist minister who had run a school in Nantwich for a number of years before being appointed to the Warrington Academy. He developed a considerable reputation as a scientist researching gases and electricity. Thomas Percival (one of the first students enrolled at Warrington Academy, founder with others of the Manchester Academy, founder of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society and a noted medical practitioner and researcher).

Thomas Percival

Fortunately with the support of Percival after its closure in 1786 its library, equipment and the money realised from the sale of its building greatly assisted the newly opened Manchester Academy. A portrait of Thomas Percival is shown opposite. The Manchester Academy was founded in 1786 and continued the tradition of dissent by teaching subjects other than theology. was appointed teacher of mathematics and natural philosophy in 1793 and remained there until the Academy was relocated to York in 1803.

When the academy was dissolved in 1786 393 students had been enrolled and these  included Thomas Barnes, Thomas Malthus, Thomas Percival (see above), John Simpson and John Goodricke.

Other tutors at the Warrington Academy included: John Aikin, Reinhold Forster, William Enfield, George Walker, Gilbert Wakefield. John Taylor, Joseph Priestley (see above), Anna Barbauld and her brother John Aikin (children of John Aikin).

The first President was Henry Willoughby.

Jean Paul Marat was reputed to have been a tutor of French at the academy. A portrait of John Dalton is shown below.

John Dalton

 John Dalton



  1. P. O’Brien. ‘Warrington Academy 1757-86’ Owl Books ISBN 0 9514333 0X.

Broadhurst. E. M. ‘History of Collegiate Teaching some pioneers Thomas Percival’ Book of Manchester and Salford-Manchester Falkner and Co pages 30-33. 1929.

Schofield. R. E. ‘The Enlightenment of Joseph Priestley’. ISBN 978-0-271-02510-0. Penn State University Press. 1997.