Sociology in Britain: Sociology Courses before the ‘First’ Sociology Course

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Christopher HUSBANDS, London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom
There is probably still a residual belief in the once popular mythical claim that the first sociology course taught in Britain was that of Edward Westermarck at the London School of Economics in the 1904-05 academic year. The more modest truth is that this course was the first with the title of ‘sociology’ or with some part-of-speech derivative of the word that was taught as part of a syllabus – and in this case a rather small part at that – which led to a conventional Bachelor’s degree in a statutorily accepted institution of higher education.

Various earlier-taught courses in sociology – one more than fifteen years earlier – may, however, be identified and, these having been identified, this raises several questions:

a. What the character was of the institutions where they were taught;

b. What, in curricular terms, they might have been teaching; and

c. Whether their content had any relationship on the curriculum of Westermarck’s first LSE course, when he came to teach it.

The institutions where these first courses were taught had a distinct focus to their teaching and their courses typically led, if passed, to the award only of a diploma of some sort. The particular locations for pre-LSE sociology were two: nonconformist religious college foundations and institutions whose philosophy was social meliorism. The first category contains two identified institutions, neither statutorily accepted as a full university; the second emerged from the philosophy and practice of nineteenth-century philanthropy as exemplified by the later role of the Charity Organization Society.

The paper presents discovered curricular information about these different courses and concludes with some specific observations on the well-discussed subject of how far these very different beginnings contributed to the slow, and disparate, growth of British sociology.