Skip to main content

Abstracts

Zoe Alker

Building Bentham’s Panopticon

Bentham’s Panopticon was imagined as the ‘ideal’ prison; it was designed as a circular building with prisoners’ cells arranged around the outer wall and dominated by an inspection tower. From the tower the prison inspector would be able to gaze upon the prisoners at all times. The central inspection principle, Bentham argued, would result in ‘morals reformed, health preserved, industry invigorated, instruction diffused, public burdens lightened…all by a simple idea in architecture’ (Bentham, 1787). Yet due to its escalating cost, his designs were never put in to practice. But the recent digitisation of Bentham’s plans by Transcribe Bentham, alongside advances in virtual reality software, means that we now have the opportunity to digitally construct the Panopticon. 3D digital modelling software has allowed us to produce an immersive experience of the prison using a smartphone app in combination with virtual reality hardware. In this paper we discuss how the combination of virtual reality software and historical material facilitates a wider understanding of imprisonment, spatiality and power. As Michel Foucault argued, the Panopticon was not just ‘a dream building’, but ‘the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form’ (Foucault, 1977). In doing so we also discuss the ways in which virtual heritage is a technique for understand-ing the interpretation of historic sites- both real and imagined.


Peter Andersson

How civilised were the Victorians? New perspectives on nineteenth-century culture

In a recent article in the Journal of Victorian Culture (20.4, pp 439-52) I developed a critique of perspectives that deem the nineteenth century to be an era of discipline and self-restraint, arguing that these result from the hegemonic position of literary perspectives within Victorian Studies and their frequent reliance on Foucauldian-inspired techniques of discourse analysis. Building on this article, my paper will outline and illustrate the potential for alternative research agendas and approaches in order that the Victorian period can be viewed in a new light. I will restate my call for Victorianists to broaden their theoretical perspectives, engage with new sources, and embrace new methodologies in order to enlarge our understanding of nineteenth-century culture.


Kirstie Blair

Stands Scotland Where It Did?: Scottish Studies, Victorian Studies and Transnational Verse Culture

This paper explores the place of Scottish studies in Victorian studies, and the circulation of popular Scottish culture in the Victorian period. It explores the reasons for the relative neglect of the Victorian period within the discipline of Scottish studies, particularly in terms of Scottish literature, and argues for the unacknowledged influence of Scottish popular poetry and song, largely produced by self-defined working men and women, on international verse cultures. Fostered by the expansion of the popular press, and substantially aided by emigration and settler cultures, Scottish verse and song deploys tropes of nostalgia, pastoral and domesticity not to evade the realities of Scotland’s position as a major player in British imperialism and industrialism, but as a vexed commentary on Scotland’s shifting position in the Victorian world.


Elleke Boehmer

Imperial, Victorian, Indian and Worldly: "Travelling in the West" in the Late 19th Century

The paper considers late nineteenth-century South Asian travellers’ movement through and beyond Suez as a process of ‘travelling in the west’, and so of acquiring an identity that was at once imperial, Victorian, Indian, and worldly. The elite Indians who were most peripatetic at this time, experienced their journey from the sub-continent to Britain as a stage-by-stage passage into an expansive and speeded-up modern world, as well as, simultaneously, a process of finding or laying claim to a new self. The travellers’ movement through and beyond Suez involved a series of shifts along a sliding scale of difference and wonderment, where each new phase seemed freighted with both individual and mythic significance. The linear trajectory of their ocean-crossing decanted each one of these travelling provincials from the layered, multiple temporalities of India, into the channel of progressive, modern time, an induction which would eventually lead them, it was believed, towards the rights and privileges of imperial citizenship and ‘universal humanity’. Travel to allowed them to take possession of new worlds in the imagination, not only the western world beyond Suez, but also the concept of an idealized England, ‘the home of [their] rulers’—and, in due course, of an Indian homeland.


Emily Cuming

At home in the world? Sailors’ homes, port cities and Melville’s Redburn

This paper will begin by examining the institution of Sailors’ Homes which emerged throughout the nineteenth century in major port cities including London, Liverpool, New York and Bombay (Mumbai). These were privately-funded lodgings designed to provide a hospitable and safe haven for merchant sailors who were curiously positioned as global adventurers at sea, but un-worldly and vulnerable figures in need of protection on shore. It will explore the way in which Sailors’ Homes cultivated an aesthetic of the world-in-a-home through architectural design and ornamental detail which rivalled the distinctive nautical style of existing places of hospitality in dockland areas. By way of a discussion of Herman Melville’s autobiographical novel Redburn (1849), my paper will go on to question to what extent sailors’ lodgings and port cities might allow for the possibility of thinking beyond what Franco Moretti terms the ‘comparative context of nineteenth-century Bourgeois Europe’, to take account of transcultural working-class networks within a global Victorian Studies.


Regenia Gagnier

The Transcultural Transformation of Victorian Studies: Global Circulation and Some Problems in Liberalism, Liberalisation, and Neoliberalism

Beginning with Victorian legacies of “Progress” and human under-determination, the lecture inter-rogates the connections between liberalism as open-mindedness and tolerance of diversity, liberal-ization as modernization and the opening up of cultures, and neoliberalism as the reduction of all values to those of the market. With examples from world-historical literatures from China, India, Latin America, and the Middle East, it considers engagement with western liberalisms and some recent conflicts between liberalism and neoliberalism.


Pamela Gilbert

Dangerous Lesions: Skin, History and Realism in Britain and France

This paper looks at the representation of skin lesions as evidence of historical sin in realist works by French and British writers. Looking at the two traditions side by side allow us to see an interna-tional dialogue about physiology, degeneration and venereal disease and how it shapes the com-mon representation of the body in realism in the two literary traditions. It also reveals cultural specificities that revise some of the formulations British literature scholars have articulated as more broadly foundational to the realist novel. Both a close reading of each tradition individually a com-parative view yield valuable perspectives. The paper will touch on Meredith, Doyle, Balzac and Zola as examples.


Isabel Hofmeyr

Racial Trademarking: Customs, Colonial Copyright and Comparative Victorianisms

This paper explores the intersection of ‘race’, empire and copyright. It takes the colonial customs house as its vantage point (Customs and Excise was the arm of the colonial state responsible for copyright). The paper tracks how colonial customs officials actually dealt with copyright. Faced with a crow’s nest of imperial, colonial and international legislation, it was difficult to know what law applied where. Customs officials hence had to formulate their own methods of working, subordinating question of copyright to their normal routines for dealing with objects. These procedures were in turn governed by imperial trade in which ‘mark of origin’ (‘Made in England’ etc) was critical since this determined the first level of sorting items into dutiable categories, namely goods from Britain, goods from the British empire, goods from elsewhere.

This concern with ‘mark of origin’ was equally apparent if one turned to the Immigration Department which worked closely with Customs and Excise. Immigration officials took upon themselves the task of policing the global colour line which constructed ‘race’ as source or origin. To have the wrong ‘mark of origin’ was to risk exclusion.

This racialized logic of origin and source came to govern understandings of copyright which came to be treated as evidence of British manufacture and hence symbol of a ‘white’ object.

In terms of the themes of the conference, the paper suggests the customs house (the site through which different languages, scripts and texts were funneled) as the ideal vantage from which to pursue questions of comparative literature and broader comparative questions more generally.


John Holmes

Building Science: The Natural History Museum Worldwide

This paper will introduce a growing research project, funded to date by the AHRC and the Canadian SSHRC, to investigate the ways in which the architecture of Victorian and early twentieth-century natural history museums embodies scientific conceptions of the natural world. In this talk I will begin by setting out principles for interpreting natural history museum architecture in these terms, using the Oxford University Museum (1860) and the Natural History Museum (1881) as examples. I will then explore how far these same principles can be adopted in interpreting natural history museums beyond England. Using the examples of the Trinity College Dublin Museum and the Dublin Natural History Museum (1857) as test cases, I will discuss how other interpretative issues come into play, including nationalism, and how the history of curation complements the history of the architecture itself. Finally, I will gesture towards the range of this project as it is developing by referring to significant examples of natural history museums in continental Europe (e.g. Vienna, 1889) and North America (e.g. Ottawa, 1912) which use architecture in comparable ways to shape perceptions of the science which they display.


Ruth Livesey

On Learning the ‘World of Words’ at Griff: George Eliot and the Multilingualism of Victorian Culture; or, the shortcomings of the 21st Century Monoglot Victorianist

In May 1840, Mary Anne Evans confided to her former teacher that she had given up on her first attempt to write for sale and publication. Her planned chart of Ecclesiastical History which she had been researching meticulously in the Newdigate family library at Arbury Hall, had been forestalled by a recent commercial publication. Evans was instead, she feared, ‘laboriously doing nothing; for I am beguiled by the fascination the study of languages has for my capricious mind. I could e’en give myself up to making discoveries in the world of words’. Despite being a full-time housekeeper to her father, at Griff House, just outside Coventry, the future George Eliot had regular Italian and German lessons from a visiting tutor, and her affinity for the latter lead to her first publication; her translation of F.D. Strauss’s Das Leben Jesu in 1846 after two years of intense labour.

What did access to this ‘world of words’ mean for a twenty-one year-old woman, living in a small hamlet on the Nuneaton road? What does it mean to enter into public discourse through the me-dium of a second language? What is the significance of the fact that, for many nineteenth-century Anglophone writers, French and German works were read and thought through in their original lan-guage, but that now many critics (this one included) fail to do so? Despite welcome attention to the concept of cosmopolitanism in Victorian literature and culture, the evident and increasing skills gap in modern foreign languages in UK and North American higher education means that this concept, not unlike contemporary ‘World’ literature, is primarily pursued through Anglophone materials (with a couple of noteworthy recent exceptions).

Taking George Eliot as its case study, this intervention takes some first steps in exploring cognitive theories of second-language acquisition in relation to common language-learning practices in mid-Victorian culture. The perceived hyper-localism of Eliot’s provincial fiction was the most celebrated aspect of her work during the nineteenth century. Building on recent work by McDonagh, Henry, Kurnick and others this paper explores the ‘worlding’ of that intense vision of locality, with a spe-cific focus on multilingualism and translation.


Clare Pettit

Seriality, Revolution and Europe in 1848: Rethinking “Victorian Literature”

The 1848 revolutions represent an unprecedented moment of urgent European synchronicity. The sharing and consequent standardisation of the images of revolution in 1848 had the effect of creat-ing a sense of telegraphic speed and serial connection between nations. The illustrated news press of 1848 played an important role in the spread of “standardised” categories, reproducing im-ages of revolutionary practice across language boundaries and political borders. I will argue that the impact of the new visuality in the news media and the experience of immediacy it afforded to readers in 1848 cannot be discounted as a representation of speed and presence in itself. The ac-cepted view that these early news pictures were too time-lagged to be of any real value to readers must be re-examined. Instead I suggest that we think about the global spread of images through the concepts of serialization and standardization, connecting these material and visual forms not only to developing political categories of democratic nationalism, but also to a pan-European liber-alism that reached beyond the national. When understood in the context of what Raymond Wil-liams called the "world-historical year of 1848", 'revolutionary' poems by Robert Browning and Ar-thur Hugh Clough show how new experiences of temporality in the 1840s (the serial, the relay, and the lag) create new relationships with space which can alter our understanding of 'Victorian Litera-ture’.


John Plunkett

‘All the World’s a Peepshow : Transnational circulation and exhibition practices’

Travelling peepshows were one of the commonest forms of visual entertainment during the nine-teenth century - they could be found at fairs, wakes, market days, horse races and regattas, and invariably offered scenes of foreign sites and landscapes. The peepshow is part of the Victorian fascination with ‘virtual’ global travelling, whereby audiences were able to be in two places at once; a viewer in London or Exeter but also a virtual visitor to New Zealand, Australia, the Arctic and China. More particularly, my paper will look at the trans-national exhibition of peepshows and the possibility of constructing a comparative global history for this device (as well as attendant method-ological difficulties and possibilities). Peepshows were not only widely exhibited across Britain, Eu-rope and but also much further afield in China and Egypt. Nineteenth-century visitors to China, for example, often noted the exhibition of street peepshows and it is interesting to compare their ico-nography and showmanship with British and European portrayals. Known as lā yáng piān [pulling foreign pictures] or xī yang jîng [western foreign scenery/landscape] in pinyin, the translation of the name of the device identifies both its design and subject matter with Western influences.


Jason Rudy

The Poetry of Greater Britain

J. R. Seeley's 1883 The Expansion of England urged Britons to understand Australia and Canada as part of the United Kingdom, held together by “community of race, community of religion, and community of interest.” Following Canadian confederation in 1867 and anticipating Australia's federation in 1901, colonialists negotiated between emerging forms of nationalism specific to their new nations and forms of broader identification with what was being called "Greater Britain." In this paper I examine the ways poetry of the period -- poetry published primarily in Australia and Canada -- engaged with this dual mode of identification.


Paul Young

Carnivorous Empire: Anglophone Adventure Fiction and the Growth of Global Meat Markets, 1865-1914

Paul Young is Senior Lecturer in Victorian Literature and Culture in the Department of English, University of Exeter. His first book, entitled Globalization and the Great Exhibition: The Victorian New World Order, was published as part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth Century Writing and Culture Series in 2009. Building upon this work, he has continued to explore cultural dimensions of Victorian imperialism and globalization, publishing research on how different literary and cultural forms – from the Gothic mode to the Adventure story to round the world board games – can be understood with relation to nineteenth-century global expansion. This paper introduces his new monograph project, entitled Carnivorous Empire: Adventure Fiction, British Culinary Culture and the Growth of Global Meat Markets, 1865-1914.

The development of processing, preservation and transportation technologies, along with extensive marketing campaigns and pronounced media interest, meant that in the latter part of the nineteenth century British consumers became increasingly hungry for meat and meat-related products sourced from non-Europe, particularly the Americas and Australasia. At around the same time popular adventure fiction entertained Victorian and Edwardian readers with fantastic accounts of far-flung, mysterious, resource rich regions of the world. This paper opens up how such fiction worked in powerful but variously inflected ways to stimulate but also unsettle a carnivorous culinary culture that took hold within a nation looking more and more to distant parts of the earth to put meat on its tables.