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James Arthur Heard and Sarah Biller: two English educators and their work for deprived children in Russia

A talk byDr James Muckle

Language: In English

The story of James Heard (1798-1875) is inspiring and highly unusual. When he went to Russia aged 18 he knew little of the language and had minimal training as a teacher, but he quickly earned a nationwide reputation as an educator. His career is paralleled by that of Sarah Kilham (later Mrs Biller 1788-1852), who also settled in St Petersburg and ran a girls’ school; later she served other philanthropic causes. Heard was invited by no less a person than Tsar Alexander I to mastermind the training of teachers in the ‘Lancasterian’ system of mutual instruction and to run a school for poor Russian boys. Together he and Kilham made a remarkable contribution to the education of poor children at a time when the educational needs of the lowest classes in society were largely ignored.

This talk will focus mainly on the work of Heard, who married and became a Russian citizen. He was the author of the first Russian grammar for anglophone learners and of a score of handbooks for students of Russian, English and French; he promoted progressive causes in education, in which several of his children became distinguished; his descendants have encouraged the research on which this talk is based. Sarah Biller returned to Britain at the end of her life; yet a school in St Petersburg today claims direct descent from the establishment she ran. This talk owes a good deal to the work of Dr John Dunstan: Sarah Biller of St Petersburg (York, 2009) .

Dr James Muckle had a long career in education. He taught Russian in schools and universities and was a teacher-trainer. He made a special study of education in Russia and is author of The Russian Language in Britain. From 2000 to 2012 he was honorary professor of comparative education at Nottingham University. His study James Arthur Heard and the education of the poor in Russia was published in March of this year.


Tickets: £7, conc. £5 (for GB Russiamembers)

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Earlier Event: March 21
4.3 Kilometres to Utopia Junction