Touchy Topics: The Imperial Public Anxiety and Null Curriculum of Sexuality in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Britain


  • Landen J Kleisinger University of Regina


education, Britain, sexuality, null curriculum, empire


At the height of British imperial power and global influence in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth century, Britainâs populace and intellectuals alike frequently saw one fitting comparison in patriotically describing their Empire: the might of Britain, in their eyes, resembled that of the Roman Empire. To the dismay of many, however, such a comparison extended not only to Romeâs dominance but its demise as well. The fall of Rome was described in Britain as being the result of moral degradation, paralyzing the Empire from within. With the rise of social Darwinism, moreover, the strength of the British Empire, like that of Rome, soon came to be associated with the strength of the individuals that comprised the state. While troops fought for Queen and Country abroad, an alternative frontline of childhood sexual deviance, in the eyes of many, threatened the British Empire internally. An examination of the actions and policies of the perceived soldiers of this frontline, teachers and headmasters, is attempted here through the theoretical lens of null curriculum. Null curriculum signifies not what is taught publicly, but rather expressed and learned through absence. Despite public calls to arms against male sexuality in the speeches, publications, letters and policy documents of teachers and headmasters, the sexual regulation of boys in public schools was seemingly silent and largely reserved to the null curriculum.