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Universities, networks and the British academic world 1850–1939
Author: Tamson Pietsch

At the start of the twenty-first century we are acutely conscious that universities operate within an entangled world of international scholarly connection. Empire of scholars examines the networks that linked academics in Britain and the settler world in the age of 'Victorian' globalisation. It argues that long-distance personal connections were crucial to the ways late nineteenth and early twentieth century universities operated and central to the making of knowledge in them, and shows that such networks created an expansive but exclusionary ‘British academic world’ that extended far beyond the borders of the British Isles. Drawing on extensive archival research, this book remaps the intellectual geographies of Britain and its empire. In doing so, it provides a new context for writing the history of ideas and offers a critical analysis of the connections that helped fashion the global world of universities today.

Mutual recognition and imperial organisation
Tamson Pietsch

This chapter centres on the various forms of imperial institutional association that developed in the period before 1914. It focuses on policies for the mutual recognition of degrees, the 1903 Allied Colonial Universities Conference and the 1912 Congress of the Universities of the British Empire. The chapter argues that these institutional and regulatory arrangements gave official recognition to the web of informal ties that connected the empire’s wandering scholars. They placed colonial institutions alongside those developing in provincial England and drew the boundaries of the British academic community so as to include the universities of the settler colonies.

in Empire of scholars
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Access, exclusion and personalised trust
Tamson Pietsch

This chapter considers the changing appointment practices of settler universities in the late nineteenth century and shows that their reliance on the private knowledge of key men in Britain worked to extend the networks of British scholarship far beyond the British Isles. However, as the chapter goes on to show, this reliance also meant that universities’ measures of expertise were contingent upon cultures of academic sociability that were heavily raced and gendered. It suggests that the technologies of selection used by settler universities helped to create a British academic world that was both expansive and exclusionary, and points to the way the boundaries and contours of this world were mapped, not just by mileage, but also by the density and reach of personal connections.

in Empire of scholars
Books, travelling scholarships, leave of absence
Tamson Pietsch

This chapter explores the ways in which settler universities reconfigured their relationship with ‘universal’ learning and international scholarship in the 1880s. It shows that by instituting new book buying and library practices, and by establishing travelling scholarship schemes and leave of absence programmes, settler universities deterritorialised some of the structures that regulated knowledge in the colonies, opening the way for scholars in Britain and the settler empire to make and maintain new sorts of relationships with each other.

in Empire of scholars
Localising ‘universal’ learning
Tamson Pietsch

This chapter examines the foundation of universities in the settler colonies in the mid-nineteenth century and considers their early development. It argues that these universities were initially local affairs, founded by self-confident settler elites who saw them as situated agents of ‘universal’ culture and symbols of colonial maturity. But it contends that in the 1870s a variety of changes began to reshape the global relationship between culture and power, pushing settler universities to find new ways of asserting their position as institutions that credentialised universal knowledge.

in Empire of scholars
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Tamson Pietsch

The Introduction problematises established understandings of universities in the British empire and introduces the main arguments of the book. Pointing to the national focus of existing scholarship and to its disconnected nature, it argues for the need to pay attention to the long-distance ties that linked universities and academics in Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Doing so, it suggests, forces historians to rethink the relationship between sociability, space and knowledge practice in the period before the Second World War, revealing an expansive British academic world that was characterised by irregular geographies of access and exchange.

in Empire of scholars
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National and international forces
Tamson Pietsch

This chapter examines some of the forces that, in the interwar period, worked to erode the networks on which the British academic world depended. It suggests that national and international forces appropriated and repurposed the various mechanisms that since the 1880s had deterritorialised aspects of settler universities. American philanthropy provided scholarships and travel grants to the United States; anticolonial activists undermined euro-centric knowledge assumptions; refugee scholars disrupted appointment practices; while a post-war Dominion nationalism localised academic orientations. These new ties and supplementary connections eroded the density and reach of the networks on which the British academic world had been based, creating patterns of academic territoriality that linked universities to their national contexts while at the same time internationalising their engagement with their fellows abroad.

in Empire of scholars
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Mobilising colonial knowledge and connections
Tamson Pietsch

This chapter examines the role played by settler universities and scholars in the First World War. It argues that the war solidified the previously more porous borders of the British academic world, curtailing relations with Germany, and intensifying those with the settler empire. Focusing on mobilization and recruitment, war related research and schemes for soldier education, this chapter shows that – although missing from current accounts – colonial knowledge and connections were inscribed deep within British wartime science. Indeed, by drawing settler scholars into Britain and fostering their connections, the conflict helped extend into the interwar period the intimate scholarly networks that, since the end of the nineteenth century, had tied the British and settler universities to each other.

in Empire of scholars
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People, objects, information, ideas
Tamson Pietsch

This chapter is concerned with the ways that the expansive connections identified in chapters 2-4 shaped the careers and ideas of academics in Britain and the settler world. Examining practices associated with student admission, the circulation of objects and information, and the publication of research, it argues that these forms of exchange point to scholarly communities that were neither exclusively colonial nor exclusively metropolitan, but that were instead located within the tightly woven and continually shifting networks of mobile scholars. Focusing in detail on the production of G.W.C. Kaye and T.H. Laby’s Table of Physical and Chemical Constants (1911) it contends that – extending along the routes of empire, yet not to all its parts and places – these networks were crucial to the ways ideas were made.

in Empire of scholars
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The Universities’ Bureau and the expansive nation
Tamson Pietsch

This chapter considers the development of the British university sector in the period between the wars. Focusing on the activities of the Universities’ Bureau and on the interwar Congresses, it argues that it was not a local and democratised conception of the British nation that animated British universities in this period, but rather an expansive and affective one that stretched out to include the Dominions. Offering familiarity in times of uncertainty, this broad national framing was a means by which the Bureau and its member universities reproduced in the 1920s and 1930s the structures and orientations that had shaped British and settler academia since the 1880s.

in Empire of scholars