Uncovering the Contingencies of Archives

Flip. Picture. Flip. Picture. Yeah, no, just zoom to that column there please, thanks – If a recording and transcript exist, these lines would be representative of my recent ‘visit’ to University of Leicester Special Collections, my first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers are likely familiar with the twinge of awkwardness on entering a hushed rare books or manuscripts room. Imagine, then, the feeling as a librarian pages through a Victorian periodical for you, on camera, via

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Crafting in the Classroom: Hands-On Approaches to Victorian Material Culture

This is the third post in the ‘Crafting Communities’ series on JVC Online. See Part One and Part Two. At a virtual roundtable on Victorian material culture held in February 2021, Andrea Korda presented on The Plough, a large-scale print published by London’s Art for Schools Association in 1899 for classroom walls. By large-scale, we mean enormous—five by six feet, to be exact, a height that would tower over most schoolchildren, and even over the teachers, once mounted on a

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Spotting Wildlife in Arts and Crafts Textiles: The Red Squirrels of Morris & Co.

Red squirrels had reason to be wary of the Victorians. Nineteenth-century culture popularised the animals – they were even kept as pets – but the Victorians also unwittingly caused the decline of the red squirrel population by introducing the rival species, the grey squirrel, to Britain.[1] Today, sciurus vulgaris stands at the centre of an emotionally charged debate about the conservation of native habitats. The red squirrel’s persistent appeal most likely has to do with its endearing looks. But in

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The Lost Circuses of Victorian Leeds

The Victorian era was the golden age of the circus. By the time that Victoria came to the throne, the circus, as we might recognise it today, was barely seventy years old. Founded in London by Philip Astley in 1768 with displays of horsemanship, military, and trick riding, the circus had expanded rapidly in the following years. Astley travelled throughout England giving performances in many northern towns and cities until he eventually made his way to Dublin. Performances were either

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Victorian #PlantParenthood: Houseplants, Love, and Domestic Rearrangements

Houseplants are a big deal now. As the COVID-19 pandemic has altered how we engage with the world, plants have stepped in as companions in easing stress and boosting mental health.  Moreover, plant corners of social media have bloomed into virtual global networks of plant collectors through shared hashtags, aesthetics, and even plant swaps. This botanic boom is far from novel. During the nineteenth century, horticulture and botany positively bloomed. A distinctly modern branch was indoor gardening (also called “window

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Crafting Communities: Rethinking Academic Engagement in Pandemic Times and Beyond

This is the first post in the ‘Crafting Communities’ series on JVC Online. See Part Two and Part Three. It is July 2020, the summer of Covid. Libraries are closed. Museums are closed. University courses and conferences have moved online. A small group of Victorianists gathers on Zoom to learn how to make hair art. Led by Vanessa Warne (U of Manitoba), the event is a test run for the upcoming semester, when Vanessa plans to make hair art with

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The Tragic Poet: Whose Name was Writ in Water

There are those who consider the words of the sanguine poet scarcely worth the reading. A prescription formula for funerals, heartbreak and teenage angst, poetry has long been established as the literary tonic for the dilapidated human condition. In the name of authenticity, it naturally follows that the greater the suffering of a maudlin bard, the greater their work and legacy. Mythology has romanticised and popularised the tragic poet, a familiar archetype in celebrity literary culture. It is the reason

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A toast to Professor Laurel Brake on the occasion of her eightieth birthday

When Marysa Demoor, a longstanding member of Journal of Victorian Culture’s editorial board, suggested a celebration of eminent Victorianist Laurel Brake’s birthday, she was deluged with contributions from some of the most prominent scholars in the field: Margaret Beetham, Anne Humpherys, John Stokes, Helen Small, Lene Østermark, Marianne van Remoortel, James Mussell, Fionnuala Dillane, Andrew King, Mark Turner and Gowan Dawson. Each offered a personal take on the impact Professor Brake has had on their area of research activity, whether

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Body-Snatching and Early Victorian Medical Education

The story of the medical profession in Britain during the first half of the nineteenth century is complex, and can be seen as representative of several key shifts in social, educational, and economic outlook. The emergent ‘professions’ of the early-Victorian period, including medicine, would undergo dramatic transformations in the wake of fast industrialisation, population growth, and increased centralised regulation. One of the most notable changes to the medical profession at this time is the increase in generalised medical schools, responding

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Jumbo the Elephant: a very Victorian institution

When I was a toddler, like many other children I hauled around a stuffed toy with me wherever I went. While many had the ubiquitous Teddy Bear, and some had a rabbit, I had a battered and well-worn stuffed elephant. It was grey and threadbare and its name was … Jumbo. Now, I never questioned why it was so called. I just assumed that all elephants were known as Jumbo. But Jumbo the Elephant was a particularly Victorian creation. Jumbo

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