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The Role of International Exhibitions in Britain, 1850–1910: Perceptions of Economic ...

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The Role of International Exhibitions in Britain, 1850–1910:

Introduction

Michael Argles, in South Kensington to Robbins, urges us not to be

too ready to condemn the past for not organising a first-class system of scientific and technical education; one might as well blame the medieval church for concentrating on the spirit of the life to come rather than on repairing the abuses of life on earth.1

The issue of British decline has preoccupied historians, who for over a hundred years have sought to explain this phenomenon. For much of the twentieth century, particularly since World War I, the relative size of various nations has been considered a significant factor in determining who would be at the head of the industrial world. It has been assumed that larger countries, including the United States and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, would inevitably overtake smaller ones. It has also been assumed that more purposeful intervention by politicians in educational matters during the second half of the nineteenth century would have helped the British to resist this trend. It is this latter assumption, the logical basis of which has never been seriously questioned, with which this book is concerned.