The crucial role of compulsory schooling in the fostering of national identities is dynamically demonstrated in Stephen Heathorn's study of the elementary school system in England at the turn of the century. His book analyses how a specific ideal of English national heritage was consciously nurtured by the professionalizing educational establishment of the period. Implicit within this ideal was an ideology that reinforced gender, class, and race distinctions. Heathorn bases his work on extensive primary material, including more than 450 different elementary schoolbooks. He unpacks the potent symbols and narratives of imperial-nationalist social prescriptions and establishes the centrality in the classroom of a racialized tion of Englishness dependent on middle-class assumptions about 'appropriate' class and gender roles. According to Heathorn, these social prescriptions marked a subtle shift from the mid-Victorian liberal discourse of self and moral improvement. This insightful, well-documented study showcases the multifaceted nature of gender history, and explores the intersection of social, political, and cultural factors in the history of schooling and identity construction.
Stephen J. Heathorn is Assistant Professor of History at Indiana Unviersity-Purdue University, Indianapolis.