Instructor: Professor Danielle Kinsey

Victorian London

Course Description: The image above is a promotional shot for the PlayStation 4 game The Order: 1886, which imagines Victorian London as a gloomy, steampunk metropolis teeming with werewolves, vampires, and electrified weaponry.  From Sherlock Holmes to Ripper Street, Dracula to Victoria, we continue to be fascinated by nineteenth-century London as the “city of dreadful delight.”  This course will examine the causes and consequences of the city’s modernization between the 1830s and early 1900s as it was shaped by new technologies, the politics of reform, industrialization, environmental crises, cholera, the threat of mass rebellion, hunger, population pressure, and crime.  We will look at topics such as the Thames river, sewage, and clean water infrastructure; the East End versus the West End; overlapping administrative jurisdictions; the rise of department stores and shopping culture; museums, cemeteries and parks as places of leisure; London as a port-city-center of a vast empire; immigration and racism; the flâneur and the flâneuse, so-called urban wanderers; class and fashion; the Great Exhibition; Chartism and Anglo-African activist William Cuffay; ideas about crime and criminality; the politics of housing, public transport, and mobility; newspapers and print culture; photography and the city; and ideas about gender and sexuality.  In addition to exploring the history of Victorian London, this course will also be an introduction to the methodologies of historical research, writing, and thinking.

Format: This is a 1.0 credit full-year seminar that will take place twice a week for 75-minute sessions.  The Fall semester will be devoted to learning about the content of Victorian London’s history through lecture, film and visual sources, readings, and group discussion.  The Winter semester will be about students conducting their own research, rendering creative and academic historical output, presenting their work, and engaging in peer review.  A few weeks of instruction in the Winter semester will be delivered completely online via cuLearn as students engage in grammar and peer review workshops.

Evaluation:  Attendance in this course will be mandatory. In exchange for this, there will be no midterm or final exams.  In the Fall semester, there will be a short (10-15 min) quiz given at the end of each class that will be on the content of class that day, either the lecture material or the assigned reading. Students will be graded on their participation in class discussion in both Fall and Winter semesters. In the Fall semester there will be two Library Assignments that will ask students to delve into our library’s physical and online collections. There will also be a long essay assignment that will ask students to deeply analyze a source they have found from the Victorian period. In the Winter semester, students will be asked to complete two projects.  The first will be a critique of how Victorian London is portrayed in our popular culture today, in film, video games, tv shows, card games, and novels. Students will have to do an in-class presentation and an essay about a popular culture artefact of their choice. The second project will ask students to do original research on a topic of their choice and then render that research into historical output of their choice.  This could be in the form of a traditional research essay or a creative written, visual, musical, digital, fashion, or dance project of some kind.

Readings: Readings for this course have not been set but may include selections from:

  • James Grant, The Great Metropolis
  • Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England
  • Steven Johnson, The Ghost Map
  • Y.S. Lee, The Agency: A Spy in the House
  • Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor
  • Andrew Mearns, “The Bitter Cry of Outcast London”
  • WT Stead, “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon”
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, a selection from his Sherlock Holmes stories
  • Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South
  • MK Gandhi, An Autobiography
  • Dickens’s Dictionary of London (1879)
  • Selections of press coverage from the Jack the Ripper murders