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Literary Culture, Meritocracy and the Assessment of Intelligence in Britain and America, 1880-1920
How late nineteenth- and early twentieth century novelists conceptualised and represented human intelligence

The project’s researchers are speaking on topics related to the project at the following events:

22 September 2019

Sara Lyons, Mike Collins and Natasha Periyan will be speaking at a public event at The Beaney, Canterbury. The event is titled ‘Reading Intelligence: Novelists on Education and Mental Ability’. The event will be held at The Explorers’ Gallery, The Beaney, Canterbury, CT1 2RA, 3.30pm-5pm. More information is below:

How do you rate your own intelligence? Chances are, the question makes you reflect on your experiences at school and perhaps especially on your exam results, even if you don’t believe school or exams are a genuine measure of mental worth.

As mass public education systems were implemented in both Britain and the United States in the late nineteenth century, “intelligence” became a key topic in science and psychology. The scientific desire to make mental capacities measurable soon entered the everyday world of the classroom in the form of the intelligence test, which came into widespread use after 1900. Yet while the intelligence test and the notion of IQ rapidly gained popular currency, the cultural meaning of “intelligence” remained unstable.

Late Victorian and modernist novels famously tell us about bad educations: about thwarted potential, cruel or incompetent teachers, boredom and disillusionment, and the gulf between formal education and the “real” world. They also probe the meaning of “intelligence” in the era when it first becomes commonplace to classify and rank minds by test scores. In these three short talks, Dr Michael Collins from King’s College London and Dr Sara Lyons and Dr Natasha Periyan from the University of Kent will discuss how novelists such as Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf and Mark Twain think about intelligence both in and out of the classroom.


5 July 2019

Sara Lyons, Mike Collins and Natasha Periyan will be delivering a Penny Lecture at Morley College at an event titled ‘Reading Intelligence – Novelists on Education and Ability’.


20 June 2019

Natasha Periyan will deliver a paper on Naomi Mitchison and intelligence at ‘Troublesome Modernisms’, the conference of the British Association for Modernist Studies.


13 June 2019

Mike Collins will lead a workshop for pupils at Brampton Manor Academy on the concept of intelligence in literary texts.


31 May 2019

Natasha Periyan was announced as the winner of the International Standing Conference for the History of Education Society’s First Book Award.


28 May 2019

Sara Lyons, Mike Collins and Natasha Periyan will discuss the project at a University of the Third Age Research Showcase at the University of Kent.


12 May 2019

Sara Lyons, Mike Collins and Natasha Periyan will speak as part of Conway Hall’s ‘Thinking on Sunday’ series at an event titled ‘Examining Intelligence – Novelists on Education and Mental Ability’.


29 April 2019

Mike Collins will be speaking on intelligence in late C19 and early C20 American literature and culture at a symposium on ‘Nonhuman Care’ at King’s College London.


March 2019

Mike Collins will deliver a paper on ‘The Infernal Intelligence of Mark Twain’ at Sussex University.


January 2019

On 31st January, Natasha Periyan will present material from her book, The Politics of 1930s British Literature: Education, Class, Gender at the Goldsmiths Literature Seminar.

Mike Collins delivered a paper entitled ‘W.E.B Du Bois’s Neurological Modernity’ at MLA 2019 in Chicago.


December 2018

On 5th December Natasha Periyan presented material from her book, The Politics of 1930s British Literature: Education, Class, Gender at the Kent Research Seminar in the English Department at the University of Kent.


November 2018

On 10th November 2018, Natasha Periyan delivered a paper entitled ‘Winifred Holtby, the National Union of Women Teachers and the Equal Pay Campaign’ at ‘Women, Work & Activism: Pasts, Presents, Futures’ held at Newcastle University.


October 2018

On 10th October Natasha Periyan delivered a talk entitled ‘Walter Greenwood and The Old School’ at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford for a public event entitled ‘Not just Love on the dole: Walter Greenwood and working class writing’.

On 27 October Mike Collins spoke on ‘W.E.B Du Bois’s Neurological Modernity’

at the Symposium on Twentieth Century North American Literature and Culture at Leicester University.


September 2018

On September 4th Sara Lyons delivered a talk on ‘Clever Heroines’ to Herne Bay Community Talks.


July 2018

The project conference, ‘Literature, Education and the Sciences of the Mind in Britain and America, 1850-1950’ was held at the University of Kent, 17- 18 July 2018.

On 20th July Sara Lyons delivered a plenary lecture on ‘Thomas Hardy and the Value of Brains’ at the Thomas Hardy Society’s 23rd International and 50th Anniversary Festival and Conference.

On 13th– 15th July, Michael Collins and Sara Lyons both attended ‘Measure and Excess’, INCS conference in Rome. Sara delivered a paper entitled ‘HG Wells’s Very Ordinary Brains’ and Mike delivered a paper entitled ‘The Pendleton Act and the Origins of Modern Intelligence’.


January 2018

Mike Collins spoke on ‘The Pendleton Act and the Origins of Modern Intelligence’ at Royal Holloway.