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Victorian studies emerged, like many interdisciplinary fields, during the 1950s and 1960s. While scholars today accept the validity of interdisciplinary work, it was not always so, and early issues of Victorian Studies and the Victorian Periodicals Newsletter reflect both scholars’ excitement over the prospect of interdisciplinary work and their hesitation in the face of an “untamed wilderness.” The same forces that gave rise to Victorian studies had their equivalent on Capitol Hill with passage of the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act of 1965. This essay explores the relationship between the emerging field of Victorian studies and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The debates and methodological discussions that shaped the founding of the field left scholars well positioned to take advantage of opportunities offered by the Endowment. NEH-supported projects such as Walter Houghton’s Wellesley Index shaped Victorian studies in profound ways, and Victorian studies, in turn, helped shape the Endowment.
This article begins with an analysis of how nineteenth-century print journalism was produced to become a basic constituent of the public sphere of its day, and how it tackled the problems of survival beyond its date of issue. I then turn to the current flurry of remediation of the nineteenth-century press in the last five years and how digitisation of print now addresses similar tasks of optimising readership, distribution, and durability. This involves consideration of one of the current central questions, the roles of public and private platforms of delivery and their relation to access. In conclusion, I explore the impact of the digitisation of nineteenth-century journalism, and digitisation more generally, on Victorian studies and its publics. I focus on two aspects of impact: how meaning in literature and history is invigorated by digital access to their representation in historical and material context, and how the proliferation of illustration in new digital media, enabled by freedom from the limitations attached to print formats, addresses twenty-first century visually-literate readers directly, helping the transmission of Victorian Studies to the imagination of contemporary readers, across social class and internationally.
This essay examines the dialectical relationship between the formation of the commercial art market in London over the course of the second half of the nineteenth century and the representation of Victorian art in museum displays of recent decades. With respect to the latter, the essay provides an overview of recent monographic and group exhibitions devoted to Victorian art. It reveals, through the examination of the twinned phenomena of the commercial art market and museological practice, the central role played by exhibition culture in our understanding of Victorian art. It closes by posing questions as to how we might improve our interpretation of Victorian art and culture as presented through museum exhibitions and displays.
This article challenges scholars to look beyond conventional audiences for Victorian studies and to go beyond conventional subjects, into the world of Victorian and Neo-Victorian fashion. It holds up the career of Dr. Valerie Steele, Director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, as a model for how to conduct historical research into Victorian clothing and how to bring the results of that research to a broader public. It encourages academics to use the Internet to connect with a non-academic public that is already engaged with the Victorians through the medium of clothing, and it urges readers in general to see Neo-Victorian “mashup” dressing as an opportunity for serious exchange of knowledge about nineteenth-century culture.
Single-author literary societies were formed in the late 1800's by enthusiasts who sought to promote the work and preserve the effects of contemporary or near-contemporary British authors. Though often mocked for their cult-like devotion, these societies filled a gap in the academic study of modern authors when the ancient universities were still debating whether English studies constituted a legitimate discipline. Unfazed by established canons of literary value, society members presented papers, compiled and published bibliographies, produced scholarly editions, and acquired manuscripts and literary relics which might otherwise have gone into private collections. This article briefly rehearses the history of these societies and their continued development with an emphasis on the sometimes awkward, sometimes productive relations between the professional and the general reader.
At a time when British funders of Higher Education are calling for more social and economic impact of humanities research and U.S. funders for innovation, the California Dickens Project and the Global Circulation Project are exemplary of humanities with a public face. The Dickens Project has recently begun to redeploy the defunct archive of International Dickens, and the British Academy-funded Global Circulation Project has begun a map and dialogue on the circulation of literatures in contact. They revive cross-cultural dialogue on deep notions of freedom and choice that have been obscured for a half-century.
Can Victorian literature speak to non-academic publics of the twenty-first century as it did to “common readers” of the past? This essay discusses several experiments in which faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduates find creative means to engage local as well as university communities in the study of Victorian and Edwardian texts. In particular, the essay considers the power of public performance—in this case of Elizabeth Robins’s suffrage play, The Convert—to inspire collective “reading,” interpretation, and reflection on the future as well as the past.
In reflecting on Victorian studies and its publics, we must remember the peculiar history of the term Victorian—a historical characterization that emerged even while the queen still reigned, a derisive caricature on the part of early twentieth-century writers, and an academic definition of a field of study. Because the Victorians were the first to experience many of the changes fundamental to modern society, Victorian studies has a particular resonance for its many publics.