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Course Category:

Program Start Date:
October 6, 2022

Maximum Participants:

Program Price:

Program End Date:
November 3, 2022

Program Time:
Thursdays at 6 p.m. ET


Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens, Jack the Ripper, Oscar Wilde, and Charles Darwin—all of them were “Victorian” yet just what did that word mean and what values did it encompass? This course will examine the social and cultural life of England from 1830 to 1900, from the worlds of the elite upper classes to the slums of London’s East End. We will pay particular attention to the various meanings of Victorianism and the myths and practices of progress, morality, reform, and imperial conquest that defined the era. We will focus on the "Two Nations" residing within England and how government and moral reformers addressed conditions of social inequality, poverty, and crime. We will also discuss how Victorian notions of class, race, gender, and sexuality were shaped by and influenced the politics and culture of everyday life. Lastly, we will ponder how and why today’s popular culture depicts the Victorians of the past and why we are so fascinated by them.


Thursday, October 6, 2022 - 6 p.m. ET

No Sex Please, We’re Victorians!: What’s the real deal about the Victorians?

Strait-laced, prudish, and stuffy? Were uncovered piano legs really considered “indecent”? We will use the first class to discuss and debunk stereotypes of the Victorians that persist in popular culture. In truth, “Victorian” was used during the 19th century not just to refer to the Queen’s reign but as a term of pride that cut across the class divide and embodied many contradictions. This lecture also covers how Queen Victoria modernized the institution of the monarchy in the age of newspapers and public opinion, and what it meant to be a female monarch in an era that idealized the weakness of women and the notion that a man’s home is his castle.

Thursday, October 13, 2022 - 6 p.m. ET

“Are there no prisons, no workhouses?”: Industrialization and Liberal Reform

In this second class, we will discuss how the Industrial Revolution that made England a superpower also fueled terrible poverty, child labor, crime, and pollution. The liberal Parliament addressed these issues with a series of laws that reflected the newly dominant middle-class attitude of "self-help" and thus ushered in the age of workhouses and the criminalization of poverty which authors like Charles Dickens railed against.

Thursday, October 20, 2022 - 6 p.m. ET

"Home Sweet Home" and the Victorian Culture of Domesticity

More than just the title of Queen Victoria’s favorite song, this motto dominated and shaped the social, emotional, and even political world of the Victorians. How did the Victorians create our modern notion of "home"; what type of labor was involved, and what happened when the ideal of the home was not achieved by some? In this third class we will look at the religious, moral, and cultural promotion of the ideals of domesticity, and womanhood, in particular, and how domesticity became an industry. We will contrast the middle-class ideals of home with working class realities and some scandals which revealed the truth behind even the finest closed doors.

Thursday, October 27, 2022 - 6 p.m. ET

Cabinets of Curiosities: Science and Entertainment

The Victorians prided themselves on their interest in technology and followed closely innovations in medicine and science, but there was sometimes a fine line between pseudo-science and "real" academic knowledge and practices in the 19th century. In this fourth lecture, we will examine such popular fads as mesmerism, phrenology, spiritualism, and freak shows to understand how broadly Victorians interpreted and practiced science and consumed science as entertainment. Sometimes, science was corrupted, as in the case of Darwinism, to reinforce the divide between Britain and its empire, or to justify the exclusion of women from public life. Even the Queen and Parliament followed the latest scientific sensations while ordinary Victorians used them to make sense of their uncertain world.

Thursday, November 3, 2022 - 6 p.m. ET

“Apostles of the Apocalypse”: Scandals and Horrors at the End of the Century

The last two decades of the 19th century were fraught with domestic tensions and scandals about individuals breaking free from some of the confines of the age. We will look at "The New Woman"; the trial of Oscar Wilde; the media attention around the “white slavery” trade and Jack the Ripper; and how these stories that rocked the nation challenged, but also reaffirmed, Victorian values on the eve of a new century. These scandals were mostly London-focused, as tabloids helped seal the city’s reputation as “the modern Babylon.” We will conclude with the legacy of Victorianism on our own culture.

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