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Inventing the Victorians


Module description

More than any other period, perhaps, the Victorians haunt British culture. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, successive historical moments have returned to the notion of 'the Victorians' and redefined it. This course is designed to examine some of the ways in which different historical periods have understood and reinvented the Victorians. The chief focus of the seminars is on the visual arts and on the middle decades of the nineteenth century and the recent past. Through a selection of case studies, the course will challenge the idea that there is a stable and unified concept of 'the Victorians' and propose that different periods have fashioned this complex concept in the image of their own concerns and values. The course introduces some key concepts in nineteenth-century visual culture in order to consider how the Victorians themselves produced an image of the period as a distinct epoch, using history and public art to disseminate a specific representation of the period. It also examines recent work - in art, literature, film and broadcasting media - that has engaged with a revision or critique of 'the Victorians' and asks what version of 'the Victorians' we are currently creating. The content of the course is, necessarily, selective but students are invited to draw on their own intellectual and cultural experiences to expand the scope and critical analysis offered in the seminars.