Professor Cordner Discusses Education Outside the Classroom

in Faculty, News and Events, Publications, Research, Spotlight
April 14th, 2016


In her new book, Education in Nineteenth-Century British Literature: Exclusion as Innovation, Professor Cordner analyzes the tradition of independent learning in 19th-century England. In her analysis, Cordner discusses the impact of self-education on renowned literary minds such as Jane Austen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Thomas Hardy and George Gissing, all of whom were barred from traditional education as a result of their gender or economic class.

In order to write Education in Nineteenth-Century British Literature: Exclusion as Innovation, Professor Cordner conducted extensive research at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, as well as the first women’s colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. The book includes rare material such as the satirical publication about Oxford that Jane Austen’s brothers founded; the poetry and memoirs of the first women’s college students at the University of Cambridge, who turned the tables on the men who previously excluded them; and material from the National Home Reading Union, which offered an annual summer program of courses to individuals pursuing an education on their own.

Cordner’s analysis of independent study also transcends time. When discussing her work, Professor Cordner explains how her research applies to the curriculum set here at the College of General Studies:

“Universities today try to cultivate a diversity of learning styles through experiential learning, study abroad, service learning and other high impact teaching practices. Although we often consider this to be a new trend in education, the nineteenth-century writers who were excluded from universities—and the culture of “cram” that came along with them—celebrated these multi-modal learning practices. In their writing, they anticipate contemporary educational theory that values multiple learning styles and active learning. They encourage us to carve out our own education, never allowing it to be dictated completely by an institutional system.”

In addition, Cordner works to ensure that her students develop the same passion for independent study as the authors discussed in her book, in the hope that contemporary students will continue to seek educational experiences outside the classroom:

“There are many opportunities for students to extend their learning beyond the traditional classroom. In my Humanities courses, students venture off campus to visit the Museum of Fine Arts, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Gibson House Museum. I have developed service-learning projects that enable students to take what they’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to a non-academic setting, inviting students to experience firsthand the link between their study of the Humanities and an engagement with the outside world. Past projects have included student-led discussions of luminaries such as Charles Dickens or Pablo Picasso with residents of nursing homes in the Boston area. Other projects involve student collaboration with organizations such as the Prison Book Program. These experiences remind my students that there exists no barrier between their studies on campus and the learning that happens outside of university walls.”

To learn more about learning beyond the classroom, purchase Education in Nineteenth-Century British Literature: Exclusion as Innovation at

Comments are closed.