Simon Brown

“Controversy College”: Useful Knowledge, Polemic and Scholarly Institutions in Stuart England
Spring 2017

In the mid-seventeenth century, an eclectic group of theologians, pedagogues, amateur physicians and enterprising husbandmen set about to disseminate “Useful Knowledge” throughout England. They used this concept to advocate for education in innovative agricultural practices and knowledge of political economy, while also pressing for  new forms of religious devotion. Through my dissertation project, I plan to study how useful knowledge emerged as a pedagogical principle in theological debates in the wake of the Reformation, but authorized plans for England’s material and social improvement by the close of the seventeenth century. This summer I will read the archives of John Dury, a Scottish theologian in this group, who imagined “useful knowledge” as a doctrinal basis that could unite the divided churches of Protestant Europe. I will travel to Cambridge, Oxford, London and Zurich to read his correspondence with interlocutors across the continent in order to trace the development of his plans for learned societies and colleges that could unite Protestant divines by producing useful knowledge of doctrine.