Instructor: Professor Pamela J. Walker


Victorians are often derided as repressed, conservative and staid, ruled by their dour Queen.  But In 1888, author Mona Caird published an article in the Westminster Review where she declared marriage a “vexatious failure”.  Her article received over 27,000 responses from men and women across Britain and the empire who wondered if marriage had a future. Victorians created an array of new religious institutions.  Pacifist, communal settlement houses offered radical religious communities. The Salvation Army was the first Christian denomination to proclaim women’s “right to preach” and the Theosophists found a Divine Feminine allied with a vibrant anti-colonialism. Women campaigned for access to birth control, an end to the state regulation of prostitution, and most importantly, the right to vote. New scientific theories challenged ideas about the origins of humanity and divine creation. Social scientists pioneered surveys and investigations that changed ideas about social class, poverty, and urban landscapes. Exploring how Victorians engaged with new ideas and social practices will transform our understanding of this era and enrich our understanding of historical change.

Class Format

The class is scheduled May 6 to June 18, Tue and Thursday 18:05-20:55. The course will combine asynchronous work, (including reading books and academic articles, completing short written assignments, conducting research using on-line resources, viewing instructional videos) and synchronous work via zoom that will include discussion of the assigned reading, presentation of student work and individual and small group meetings to discuss research questions. Students must be available for zoom classes during the scheduled class time but we will not meet continuously during that time slot.

Aims and Goals 

This course will allow students to work with major problems in modern British history and become familiar with important historiography in the field. It will develop students’ capacity to conduct historical research, to work with different kinds of historical sources and strengthen their skills in finding and using such sources. Students will write both short and more substantial historical essays and this will develop their ability to write persuasively, to respond to historiographical debate, to write clear, concise prose, and to confidently write both shorter and longer essays. Our in-class discussion will sharpen students’ verbal fluency and their ability to respond thoughtfully to other points of view, both of their fellow students and the historians whose work we will read. The class will also include opportunities for students to appreciate the skills and competencies they have developed and how to effectively transition into their lives after the undergraduate degree. We will utilize several university programs that are designed to assist students in navigating that transition.


Students will complete several smaller written assignments, participate in zoom class meetings where they will participate in discussions and debates, formulate a research project and submit a research plan, and complete an original research project that will result in a research essay. Students will also view instructional videos and complete online activities about their transition to a post-undergraduate career.


We will read a recent and influential book that considers both an historical narrative and the questions of research methods.

Seth Kovan, The Matchgirl and the Heiress (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014). Students will require a copy of this book and it is available in both ebook and paperback editions.

The American Historical Review said:

It is a beautiful account of a time and a place, and however rich and complex the analysis, its arguments and conclusions are not only accessible to a broad readership but have implications that transcend the narrow interests of historians of modern Britain. The Match Girl and the Heiress is a wonderful read that is immensely hopeful about the possibilities of “reconciliation” across a variety of social divides and the importance of keeping the relationship between “loving and doing” alive.

This book won major prizes including:

  • Winner of the 2015 Stansky Prize, North American Conference on British Studies
  • Winner of the 2015 NAVSA Best book of the Year Award, North American Victorian Studies Association
  • One of’s 10 Can’t-Miss History Books of 2015

We will also read scholarly articles and chapters of books organized around historical themes and problems which may include Sharon Marcus, Between Women: Friendship, Desire and Marriage in Victorian England and Deborah Cohen, Family Secrets: Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain.

Questions: email