Testing Like William the Conqueror: Cultural and Instrumental Uses of Examinations


  • Sherman Dorn Arizona State University




accountability, testing, history, cultural expression, state-building


The spread of academic testing for accountability purposes in multiple countries has obscured at least two historical purposes of academic testing: community ritual and management of the social structure. Testing for accountability is very different from the purpose of academic challenges one can identify in community “examinations” in 19th century North America, or exams’ controlling access to the civil service in Imperial China. Rather than testing for ritual or access to mobility, the modern uses of testing are much closer to the state-building project of a tax census, such as the Domesday Book of medieval Britain after the Norman Invasion, the social engineering projects described in James Scott's Seeing like a State (1998), or the “mapping the world” project that David Nye described in America as Second Creation(2004). This paper will explore both the instrumental and cultural differences among testing as ritual, testing as mobility control, and testing as state-building.



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Author Biography

Sherman Dorn, Arizona State University

Sherman Dorn is the author of Accountability Frankenstein (2007) as well as a number of articles on the history of accountability and related policies in the United States. He is currently a professor of education and director of the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.




How to Cite

Dorn, S. (2014). Testing Like William the Conqueror: Cultural and Instrumental Uses of Examinations. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 22, 119. https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.v22.1684



Comparative and international history of school accountability