Bildung is a controversial German neo-humanist term that, as conceptualised by Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835), proposed a whole new educational project: to bring all the potential contained within each person to full expression as a means towards social progress. Bildung is the object of renewed attention in theories of education today. While it is contested for its classist and sexist bias, it is also reconceptualised as a powerful tool to counterbalance market-oriented instrumentalist uses of education. Seeking to contribute to these debates from the perspective of the history of education, my project will put into play a critical reading of Bildung in order to explore personal correspondence as educational instruments in the life of English feminist, artist and philanthropist Barbara Bodichon (1827-1891). Persuaded of its potential as a thinking tool, reading letters through the lens of Bildung is an original way of exploring epistles as sources of informal education for literate women in nineteenth-century England and an alternative path to review and nuance our understanding of this already studied historical figure.
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