When Science Met People Through Education: the Mechanics' Institute Movement in the 19th Century Britain

  • Song, Jin-Woong (Seoul National University)
  • Received : 2012.04.10
  • Accepted : 2012.05.23
  • Published : 2012.06.30


With an emphasis on scientific literary, science education has again became closer to the interests and needs of people and sometimes expands its scope beyond the boundaries of school and the curriculum. Science educators often claim that its historical roots can be traced back to the movements of General Science and Science and Citizenship during the 1920s-40s. This study attempts to re-interpret the historical meanings of the Mechanics' Institute Movement (MIM) from the perspectives of science education. In doing so, this study first introduces the process of the emergence of MIM with a focus on its founder, George Birkbeck, and the Andersonian Institute where evening science classes began to be open to skilled workers. Then the overview of MIM is described, with examples drawn from the London Mechanics' Institute and the Manchester Mechanics' Institute. In discussing science teaching of MIM, the details taken from various mechanics' institutions are examined in terms of why, what, and how to teach sciences. This study argues that the MIM was a unique social phenomenon in which science could respond to the needs of skilled workers through education, providing science learning opportunities which were otherwise unavailable and that the MIM shared many similarities with current practice of science education, moving towards a wider career perspectives, cross-subject, community-based, and informed citizenship.


Mechanics' Institute;George Birkbeck;scientific literacy;history of science education


Supported by : Seoul National University


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