The Kingdom of Science: Literary Utopianism and British Education, 1612-1870

The Kingdom of Science: Literary Utopianism and British Education, 1612-1870

The Kingdom of Science: Literary Utopianism and British Education, 1612-1870

The Kingdom of Science: Literary Utopianism and British Education, 1612-1870


The Kingdom of Science examines Baconian utopias as blueprints for a scientific sociology of knowledge that founded a new social and economic world in the seventeenth century. Looking backward, Paul A. Olson begins with More's Utopia and Shakespeare's The Tempest, static state utopias designed to woo us toward a moral as opposed to a scientific reform. To these, Olson then contrasts the primary subjects of his study- Bacon's New Atlantis, the Commonwealth educational utopias, and the utopianism of Adam Smith and his Utilitarian followers. These later utopias increasingly point to an ideal world to be dominated by a science linked to technology, compelled education, and competitive capitalism. They posit as their end the conquest of nature and use as their means the routinizing of research and education. Their visions, Olson argues, lie at the center of the educational models adopted by mainstream British and American policymakers in the last century and a half- despite the warnings of both conservative and radical critics concerning their potential consequences for the environment and for culture.

The challenge Olson presents for those responsible for forging our social future is creating visions sufficient to energize human groups while allowing both for the critical reflection necessary for constructive policy debate and for the action necessary to prevent environmental chaos and cultural disruption.

The Kingdom of Science is a companion to Olson's earlier book, The Journey to Wisdom, and carries the assumptions of that patristic-medieval study into the early-modern and modern periods.


This book had its genesis in a plan developed in the early 1980s to publish a series of essays written during the 1960s — 80s. The essays concerned literature and education, culture and education, the education of teachers, and the treatment of poor people in America by higher and secondary education. While I taught medieval and Renaissance literature at the University of Nebraska, I had also led a series of federal projects and commissions: the Nebraska Project English, the Tri-University Project, a Teaching the Teachers of Teachers project, the United States Office of Education Study Commission on Education and the Education of Teachers, and the Center for Great Plains Studies. In the process of leading these efforts, I was called upon to deliver papers and speeches addressing the educational issues of the period of the Civil Rights movement and its aftermath. Since these were nonce presentations, I thought I should do the research to fill in the background of what I had said to make them more serious pieces.

I wrote one version of this book, but as I contemplated it, I began to realize that it would quickly become dated and that I needed to understand the relationship between literary texts and the construction of education at a deeper level. Hence, I began the writing that led to The Journey to Wisdom on medieval self-education and the editing that led to The Struggle for the Land on small group societies and the environment. Working with those two books made me aware that I might contribute more to our understanding of the topics at issue if I traced the modern decline of faith in our capacity to learn and the imaginative forces ensuring that education in England and the United States took a different course in the post-Reformation / Renaissance period from that pursued on the Protestant or Catholic continents. As I view . . .

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