Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Seminar in Dissenting Studies, the Board Room, Dr Williams's Library, 14 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0AR. All are welcome. Those with an interest in Dr Williams's Library and its collections and in the history of Protestant dissent are especially invited to attend.

Wednesday 21 April 5.15 to 6.45 pm

Mark Burden (Queen Mary, University of London), ‘From Uniformity to Disunity: Political and Theological Controversy at the Dissenters’ Academies, 1660-1720’

Mark Burden is a third year PhD student at the Dr Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies, Queen Mary, University of London. He was formerly educated at Oxford University (BA, MSt) and the University of Southampton (PGCE). His PhD project entails the first ever systematic study of manuscript and printed sources relating to the earliest academies for dissenters in England (1660-1720), which he is considering in relation to political, social, and intellectual history. He is preparing a Biographical Dictionary of Dissenting Tutors and Students 1660-1720 for e-publication and will be a contributor to the forthcoming book, A History of the Dissenting Academies in the British Isles, 1660-1860, to be published by Cambridge University Press. As well as his thesis, his current projects include an account of the education of Daniel Defoe, and a fresh look at the attitudes of dissenters to the music of Henry Purcell.

Following the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, nonconformists found new ways to educate their children in university learning. Rather than send their sons to the universities, they established private academies across England, for the study of a wide range of academical subjects, including the learned languages, logic, ethics, natural philosophy, mathematics, and theology. Until recently, it was not possible for the political and intellectual significance of the earliest of the dissenters’ academies to be explored in detail. However, Mark Burden’s research has enabled a considerable body of manuscript and printed evidence relating to the early academies to be identified and contextualized for the first time. Previous accounts of the academies operating in the period 1660-1720 have generated a simplistic impression that tutors were passive victims of persecution, who succeeded against the odds in pioneering distinctively modern forms of learning. However, although tutors were affected by religious legislation, including the Act of Uniformity, the Toleration Act, and the Schism Act, they also contributed a range of conflicting views to many other political controversies. Furthermore, although some tutors produced new scientific works, many were intellectually unadventurous, using or adapting existing university textbooks and systems of learning. In theology, most remained orthodox, although the presence of Arian beliefs in some early eighteenth-century academies was to have important long-term consequences. A careful study of student notebooks and political pamphlets by tutors and students reveals that unity of educational method or belief was never a feature of the early academies, and that the strength of conflicting ideological forces had important political and social consequences for early eighteenth-century dissent.


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