Autobiographies of Childhood: The Experience of Education

The autobiographies of ordinary men and women are an important, though neglected, source of social history. John Burnett, Professor of Social History at Brunel University, has been collecting and studying these writings, many of them unpublished, for several years. This month and next, History Today is publishing an extract from the section on education in his book, Destiny Obscure.

Most writers of autobiography received some schooling, however brief and rudimentary, and almost all of them included some account of it in their memoirs. The acquisition of learning was evidently regarded by all classes except the poorest as having important social, economic and cultural attributes, and as the century advanced an increasing proportion of space was devoted to the period of education and to its significance in people's lives: in not a few accounts it came to occupy the centre of the stage, replacing religion and work as the dominant life experiences.

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