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Thomas Hill Green and Local Citizenship in Twentieth-Century Britain

Tom Hulme writes about the influence of the Victorian idealist philosopher Thomas Hill Green following his Lunchtime seminar paper earlier this year

Earlier this year I was very happy to be invited to the UCL Institute of Education to give a paper as part of their History of Education Lunchtime Seminars. I had not been living and working in London long, so it was a new place for me – and a nice surprise! I gave a talk titled (rather drily!), Thomas Hill Green and Local Citizenship in Twentieth-Century Britain.

Thomas Hill GreenThe paper was about the lasting influence of the Victorian idealist philosopher Thomas Hill Green (1836–1882) in the application of citizenship education, and the specifically local and urban articulation that this took. Despite the tendency for historians to view citizenship through the prism of the national or imperial, it was actually common for both children and adults to be taught that it was in the local, and the city especially, that the rights and responsibilities of citizenship were received and enacted. Using Green’s justification for state intervention to ensure individual liberty, educators argued that municipal government was the guardian of the life and health of individuals and communities—an educational approach they termed civics. These ideas were prominent in the organizations that provided civics in the 1920s and 1930s, such as the National Association of Local Government Officers and the Association for Education in Citizenship. If anyone is interested in seeing the ‘finished article’, they can find it here, in Twentieth Century British History!

I was really pleased with the enthusiasm and engagement of the audience– I don’t really come from a history of education background, but I felt like my work had found a natural home. I was given lots of new ideas, and plenty of food for thought. Was there a big difference between how civics was taught to boys and girls? Was civics only a state-elementary school subject, or was it also prominent in public school? At some point I will definitely return to these questions; even though I had finished the article before the paper, it now already needs to be expanded!

tom_hulmeTom Hulme is Early Career Lecturer in Urban History at the Centre for Metropolitan History. His research looks at the relationship between cities and citizenship in Britain and North America in the first half of the twentieth century.


See our seminars page for the upcoming papers.