Paradigm, No. 5 (August, 1991)

David Hamilton Curriculum History (Geelong, Victoria 3217 Australia: Deakin University Press, 1990) Aus$13.50, pp. 103.

This is a short, unusual and stimulating book. It consists of a long essay on the origin and evolution of the organised patterns of schooling -- curriculum, subject, pupil career -- which we now take for granted; an annotated bibliography; and finally three readings. These last are taken from John Dewey (1902), the Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education (1926), and Lawrence Stenhouse (1983). This unusual structure reflects the book’s origin as part of a course in curriculum theory in the Open Campus programme at Deakin University.

The opening essay carries on the exploration of the history and versions of ‘curriculum’ which Hamilton records in his Towards a Theory of Schooling (Falmer: Falmer Press, 1989). The search began at Glasgow where Hamilton taught for 11 years, and which provided the earliest example of the word, ‘curriculum’ in the OED. Plunging into the head and complex currents of European intellectual and social history, Hamilton found that the ‘methodising’ of educational experience the word hinted at could be traced to the work of 15th and 16th century theorists and reformers. His tentative conclusion is that it crystallised out of the blend of Ramist formalisation and Calvinistic emphasis on the course of life (vitae curriculum). The methodising theme is followed into the 20th century, where the spectrum of approaches to curriculum theorising is sketched in as a prelude to the three readings.

Such a brief essay covering such ground is inevitably patchy at times. (the 19th century receives a page and a half, of which one page is devoted to Spencer), But this is not a dilettante scamper. The reader follows an argument, and an investigation which is very much in progress. The limits of Hamilton’s own knowledge have hampered him; it is not easy to investigate 17th-century encyclopedists without Latin. Nor have some of the regions he enters been adequately mapped by others. (Here the recent work of Grafton and Jardine is important: Hamilton draws on their From Humanism to the Humanities).

How did the modern West get to be the way it is? Such a question can be approached quite centrally through looking at the development of ideas of individuals, knowledge and their relationship. Hamilton shows that it is possible to advance our knowledge of such large questions by pursuing a wide variety of historical phenomena in the light of a clearly formulated problem. Both his clear-headed persistence and his procedure of beginning from a crucial word, might well be imitated in another area: the history of the idea of the Textbook.

Chris Stray


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