Classics Transformed: Schools, Universities, and Society in England, 1830-1960

By Christopher Stray | Go to book overview

5
From Liberal Education to Learning:
The Growth of Academic Scholarship

The moral of the recent history of classical study in England seems to be that disestablishment—whatever we may think of it in the political world—is not always and everywhere bad for the disestablished. It may at times serve as a salutary tonic. Certainly one may say that the modern development of interest in classical literature dates from about the period—the sixties of last century— when interest in liberal education proposed to dethrone Latin and Greek from the educational supremacy which they then held.

A. D. Godley, 19141

In this chapter I turn to the institutional and ideological development of classics in the universities after 1870. The main focus is on Cambridge, where the impact of academic organization is both clearer and more advanced than in Oxford. In the half century from 1870 to 1920, a gradual but distinct shift took place in the nature of English classical scholarship. In essence, it moved from the text-centred solidaristic affirmations of permanent humanist value to a more detached investigation of the classical world which went beyond the margins of the literary text. In the process its social bases and organization, its institutional forms, its scope and its dominant legitimations all changed. These changes were to varying degrees resisted and contested: my summary indicates direction, not completion. Not till the 1920s was an academic/faculty structure in place, and even then its introduction was in Oxford deflected by the organized power of Greats tutors.

The movement from an earlier world of gentlemanly amateur scholars to that of professional researchers took place in university environments where the literary-humanist ethos remained firmly embedded in college teaching, and where institutional autonomy, cumbrous organizational structures, and powerful vested interests all obstructed change.

____________________
1
"The Present Position of Classical Studies in England", in Lectures Delivered in Connection with the Dedication of the Graduate College of Princeton University in October 1913 ( Princeton: Princeton UP, 1914), 67-94, at 67.

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