Mechanics Institutes

The idea of a Mechanics Institutes first emerged in Scotland at the end of the 19th century. At the University of Glasgow, two professors, John Anderson and George Birkbeck began offering free lectures to the working people of Glasgow. When Anderson died in 1796 he left all the money he had to found Anderson's College. Birkbeck worked as professor of natural philosophy at the college but eventually moved to London where he founded the London Mechanics Institute. The publication of Observations Upon the Education of the People (1825) by Henry Brougham helped to popularize these institutions. These self-improving working men's adult education colleges were often funded by wealthy local industrialists.

Primary Sources

(1) Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz (1947)

Last spring the Germans had constructed huge tents in an open space in the Lager. For the whole of the good season each of them had catered for over 1,000 men: now the tents had been taken down, and an excess 2,000 guests crowded our huts. We old prisoners knew that the Germans did not like these irregularities and that something would soon happen to reduce our number.