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    Informal adult education between the wars: the curious case of the Selbourne Lecture Bureau

    Clarke, Richard (2005) Informal adult education between the wars: the curious case of the Selbourne Lecture Bureau. Discussion Paper. Birkbeck College, University of London, London, UK.

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    The Selborne Society, established in 1885, was Britain’s first national conservation organisation, dedicated to the preservation of birds, plants and pleasant places. It flourished in the period prior to 1914, but declined thereafter and almost vanished in the years following 1945, to be revived as a small local natural history society in Ealing, West London. Its decline can be attributed to two related causes; its eclipse by the (Royal) Society for the Protection of Birds (which it helped form) and its own focus on adult education as the principal vehicle for achieving its ends. Between 1919 and 1939 the Society functioned as a national lecture bureau, extending its subject coverage beyond natural history to science, travel and exploration, and antiquarianism. At its height (between 1927–1929) when it acted as agent for the Empire Marketing Board, its annual programme ran to between 1,200 and 1,400 lectures, comparable to the then programmes of the Workers’ Educational Association, or of the university Extension movement; the Society’s handbook (in which lecturers paid to advertise their biographies and offerings) ran to over 60 pages. The story of the Selborne Lecture Bureau, the nature of its provision, and the relation of its officers with others (such as those active in its Croydon branch) illuminates a hitherto neglected aspect of adult education between the Wars, which is often presented primarily as the narrative of the institutionalisation (in the 1944 Education Act) of university extension and voluntary sector workers’ self education. Examination of the rise and fall of the Selborne Society provides a window on a quite separate, parallel stream – gendered, paternalist and essentially conservative in outlook. Education was first seen, if not as a panacea, then at least as preferable to environmental and social action; this was in direct conflict to the principles and campaigning policies of the early RSPB (for which education was a means, rather than an end in itself). This led the Selborne Society into opportunist alliances, most particularly with the Board of Trade, which frustrated the passing of conservation legislation for more than a decade. Ultimately, as a lecture agency, the Selborne Society became, wittingly or unwittingly, part of the opposition to the movement for social change which characterised the inter-War period. In this, the Selborne Society anticipated what remains today a strong current in environmental education and in lifelong learning.


    Item Type: Monograph (Discussion Paper)
    Additional Information: FCE Occasional Paper 6 - ISBN: 0907904246
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Adult education, Lecture Bureau, Empire Marketing Board, Selborne Society
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences
    Depositing User: Richard Clarke
    Date Deposited: 01 Oct 2013 11:37
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 17:07


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