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Victorian Britain

Victorian Britain

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Victorian Britain

Course No. 8490
Professor Patrick N. Allitt, Ph.D.
Emory University
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4.8 out of 5
71 Reviews
81% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 8490
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is well illustrated and features more than 225 portraits, maps, and illustrations that take you back in time to Victorian England. Portraits include those of Queen Victoria, Benjamin Disraeli, Florence Nightingale, and Charles Darwin; maps chart the spread of Victorian London's city streets and reveal the epic scope of the British Empire's colonial project in Africa; and illustrations and early photographs document everything from The Great Exhibition of 1851 to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Celebration. There are on-screen spellings and definitions to help reinforce material for visual learners.
Audio Streaming Included Free

Course Overview

Darwin. Gladstone. Disraeli. Dickens. Meet the pioneering, paradoxical Britons of the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Through peaceful and gradual change they built one of the world's first industrial democracies—in a class-bound society with a powerful landed aristocracy and a negative view of business. They gloried in a globe-spanning and relatively humanely run empire—even as it distracted them from underlying economic weaknesses that presaged Britain's 20th-century decline. They were also intensely sentimental—yet ignored extreme squalor and hardship in their midst.Consider these other apparent contradictions:

  • They became history's first campaigners against slavery and pursued a host of reformist, often religiously inspired causes with zeal and vision—yet tolerated child labor and the Opium War.
  • They were quick to exploit new technologies, including the steam engine, cast-iron construction, and gas lighting—yet lost their economic leadership to Germany and America.
  • The Victorians created the cityscape of modern Britain—visible today except for what was destroyed by bombing in World War II—while consciously trying to re-create earlier styles.
  • They faced rapid and sweeping scientific, historical, and technological shifts—yet avoided massive upheavals that tore at other European and Atlantic societies in their day.
  • And in their trademark style, the Victorians even reformed cricket, turning it from a riotous diversion for hard drinkers and gamblers into a byword for flannel-clad decency and goodhearted fair play that crossed class lines and brought together the best features of democracy and aristocracy.

Victorian Britain: Strengths and Foibles

This course is a chronological journey into the Victorian story with all its strengths and foibles and invites you to reflect on its lessons both positive and negative.

You move from the unexpected ascension to the throne of teenaged Princess Victoria in 1837 to her death in 1901 as the Boer War neared its end.

You learn about the lives of Victorian women; the situation facing working people and the rise of trade unionism; Victorian achievements in art, literature, architecture, and music; and what Leonard Woolf called "the seriousness of games" and of leisure-time activities as windows on Victorian life.

You discuss the important role played by Christianity as a force for both principled adherence to tradition and principled pursuit of change; and the influence of science and the debates over its impact that animated the Victorians.

You learn what the Victorians believed about education; the questions raised by Britain's rule over its Empire, the problems of poverty and crime; the discoveries of Victorian explorers in Africa; and more.

All in all, you will find it a remarkable tour of a remarkable age. And one of the highlights of it, as Professor Patrick N. Allitt explains, is something that never happened.

The Dog That Did Not Bark

Arthur Conan Doyle's stories about Sherlock Holmes are among the best-loved literary legacies from the Victorian age. In one of them, "Silver Blaze" (first published in London's Strand magazine in December 1892), a crucial piece of evidence is something that did not happen—what Holmes calls "the curious incident" of the dog that did not bark.

In Britain there was nothing like the French Revolution, the revolutions of 1848, the Paris Commune, the Italian and German wars of unification, or the American Civil War.

Understanding how the British and their institutions managed peacefully to accommodate and manage the currents of change is one of the main themes in this course.

And the change was vast. With the culmination of the Industrial Revolution, Britain had gone decisively from being a mostly rural and agricultural society to being a land of large industrial cities.

Much of the credit, Professor Allitt argues, goes to able leaders.

Gladstone and Disraeli

"The first was Victoria herself," he says, "who came to the throne at a time when the monarchy was at a low ebb thanks to the foibles and derelictions of her predecessors. Her example of probity and assurance helped make the monarchy a symbol of stability and national unity that served Britain well. Therefore, the age deserves to be named after her for more than accidental reasons."

But above all were the two great prime ministers, the Liberal William Gladstone (1809-1898) and the Conservative Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881). Between them they dominated the political landscape and played crucial roles in helping Britain absorb and creatively adapt to the massive changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution and the rise of democracy.

Each in his own way was a remarkable character, and their clashes and collaborations (whether overt or tacit) are justifiably the stuff of legend.

Victorian Firsts

Victorian Britain was the first society to:

  • go from majority illiterate to near-universal basic literacy
  • abolish public executions, in 1868
  • offer free universal public schooling, beginning with Prime Minister William Gladstone's Education Act of 1870
  • build railroads, steam-powered mills, and iron-hulled ships
  • create a public building lit by electric lights (the Savoy Theatre in London, custom-built for Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta productions in 1881).

British doctors such as Sir Joseph Lister were early advocates of such innovations as anesthesia and sterile procedure, while Florence Nightingale essentially invented modern nursing during the Crimean War.

British engineers and architects were the first to build with cast iron and plate glass, creating such magnificent structures as Scotland's Firth of Forth railroad bridge (still standing) and London's Crystal Palace.

A Chorus of Victorian Voices

One of the joys—and for professional historians, challenges—of studying Victorian history is the sheer wealth of sources. It was a literate age, and one of the first societies in which statistics were systematically collected, analyzed, and reported on.

Queen Victoria herself was a faithful diarist and kept up a huge and lively correspondence. Among the highlights quoted in these lectures are the 21-year-old queen's excited and warmly amorous impressions of her husband-to-be Prince Albert, her contrasting thoughts about Gladstone and Disraeli, and her touching and revealing letter of condolence to Mary Todd Lincoln, written only a few years after Victoria herself had been suddenly and tragically widowed—and from which she never recovered.

A Wealth of Information from a Well-Documented Era

Professor Allitt also cites:

  • Disraeli's tart opinion of Gladstone, as well as a letter of Disraeli's to the queen that stands as a minor masterpiece of artful flattery (no wonder she liked him best)
  • Gladstone's explanation of why he, as a devout Christian, favored the controversial step of seating an atheist member of Parliament
  • a clergyman's hilarious parody of the turgid prose of "social Darwinist" Herbert Spencer
  • Winston Churchill's description of what he experienced during the last full-dress cavalry charge in British military history at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898
  • recollections of affairs by the unknown author of My Secret Life, an 11-volume memoir of one middle-class man's travels through the sexual underworld
  • a Lancashire housemaid's remembrance of what Christmas was like for servants
  • a reforming journalist's heartrending account of hardship and deprivation among poor children in London
  • an Evangelical reformer's horrified account of the boisterous, alcohol-soaked festivities surrounding village holidays.

The End of an Era

When Queen Victoria died in 1901, she left behind a nation indelibly marked by the Victorian legacy, for good and for ill.

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36 lectures
 |  31 minutes each
  • 1
    The Victorian Paradox
    Britain during the age of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) is a society very close to us in many ways, and one of the first to embody the characteristic modern paradoxes with which we still deal. This makes it especially worthwhile to study. x
  • 2
    Victoria’s Early Reign—1837-1861
    The teenage girl who ascended the throne upon her uncle's death had never expected to become queen. She was crowned at a time when the monarchy was at a low ebb, yet her authority and assurance would help make her name the byword for an age. x
  • 3
    The Industrial Revolution—1750-1830
    Political stability and improved farming methods helped make Britain the world's first industrial country. Wealth and squalor were both much in evidence as factories, steam engines, and time clocks imposed a new order on human life. x
  • 4
    Railways and Steamships
    Where were the first railways in Britain—and hence the world—built? What was the "parent" technology from which they were derived? And what other advances in transport did they help lead to? x
  • 5
    Parliamentary Reform and Chartism
    In 1830, only 1 in 20 Britons had the vote. There was no secret ballot, and Parliament was riddled with "rotten boroughs." The Reform Act of 1832 abolished many old constituencies, created new ones, and cautiously expanded the franchise. Chartists pushed for much more. x
  • 6
    The Upper- and Middle-Class Woman
    Courtship, marriage, and motherhood were central for women from the higher classes. Those eager for higher learning and careers faced many obstacles, but a determined few such as Florence Nightingale and George Eliot showed what could be done. x
  • 7
    The Working-Class Woman
    The stark contrasts in Victorian life are apparent in the lives of the poorer majority of women who had to work, almost always at difficult, low-paid, and unhealthy jobs. x
  • 8
    The State Church and Evangelical Revival
    Britain's established church, the Anglican Church or Church of England, felt currents of reform and evangelical revival even as it faced diverse challenges from new ideas and social conditions. x
  • 9
    The Oxford Movement and Catholicism
    In the 1830s and '40s, the Oxford Movement stressed the supernatural aspects of the Church of England. Two of its luminaries, Henry Manning and John Henry Newman, would become leaders of Roman Catholics in Britain. x
  • 10
    Work and Working-Class Life
    The Industrial Revolution did not sweep Britain evenly or all at once, though for most the mills, mines, and shops with their clocks, whistles, and machines meant a whole new—and not always welcome—way of thinking about labor and the use of time. x
  • 11
    Poverty and the “Hungry Forties”
    Industry and city life made poverty more visible and shocking. Utilitarianism, evangelicalism, and works of writers like Charles Dickens roused the conscience as never before. Private philanthropy strove to fill the gaps left by the New Poor Law and its system of dreaded workhouses. x
  • 12
    Ireland, Famine, and Robert Peel
    On "John Bull's Other Island," the potato blight that first struck in 1846 threw millions into near or absolute starvation; sparked mass migration to England, Canada, and the United States; and set off shock waves that crippled England's ruling Tory party for decades. x
  • 13
    Scotland and Wales
    Britain's "Celtic fringes" began to resemble England in crucial ways, witnessing the growth of industrial cities. At the same time, both the Scots and the Welsh showed a penchant for elaborate and sometimes fanciful national traditions. x
  • 14
    Progress and Optimism
    The Great Exhibition of 1851 and its centerpiece, the Crystal Palace, typified the Victorians' belief in improvement of all kinds, material and moral. So did Saltaire, the model workers' town built by the Yorkshire entrepreneur Titus Salt. x
  • 15
    China and the Opium War
    When the Manchu Dynasty barred British merchants from selling illegal but popular opium in China, the merchants called on British arms to force the trade between 1839 and 1842. x
  • 16
    The Crimean War—1854-1856
    Britain's first European war since Waterloo saw many "firsts." Get the inside story on the charge of the Light Brigade, the pioneering medical work of Florence Nightingale, and the investigative reporting of the London Times's W. H. Russell. x
  • 17
    The Indian Mutiny—1857
    In the mid-19th century, fewer than 50,000 British colonial troops and officials ruled 200 million Indians. What caused the famous sepoy rebellion? How did the British put it down? How did it change their policies toward India? x
  • 18
    Victorian Britain and the American Civil War
    The war pulled Britain several ways. Economic and diplomatic interests suggested alliance with the Confederacy, but religious and humanitarian feeling backed the Union, especially after the Emancipation Proclamation. x
  • 19
    The British in Africa—1840-1880
    Famous explorers such as Richard Burton and David Livingstone criss-crossed Africa seeking variously to increase knowledge, preach the Christian gospel, suppress the Arab slave traders, and develop economic opportunities. x
  • 20
    Victorian Literature I
    Several of the greatest and best-loved writers in the history of the English language were Victorians, including Dickens, George Eliot, Trollope, and the Brontë sisters. Their works gives us a vivid picture of Victorian life. x
  • 21
    Art and Music
    Pre-Raphaelite painters such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the great critics John Ruskin and Walter Pater, and the immortal Gilbert and Sullivan—whose gently satirical operettas are splendid windows on the age—are among the characters you will meet in this lecture. x
  • 22
    Science
    The prestige of science and technology grew, even as the works of geologist Charles Lyell and the biologist Charles Darwin stirred intense debates over the relationship between scientific research and religious belief. x
  • 23
    Medicine and Public Health
    The Victorian era was a time when death at any age was a common phenomenon. Medical advances were substantial, however, with doctors becoming professionals and anesthesia, sterile procedures, and public-sanitation measures pointing the way. x
  • 24
    Architecture
    How did Victorian architecture—so many examples of which can still be seen around the British Isles today—reflect Victorian life and the Victorian mind? Who were the great Victorian architects, and where can you see their masterpieces? x
  • 25
    Education
    Improved schooling was among the Victorians' great accomplishments: In 1830, more than half of all Britons could not read or write. By 1900, nearly everyone had at least some elementary literacy. x
  • 26
    Trade Unions and the Labour Party
    British workers felt a strong class solidarity out of which sprang unions and later the Labour Party, founded in 1900. Eight years earlier, unionists' votes had made Keir Hardie the first working-class MP. x
  • 27
    Crime and Punishment
    Crime was a grave problem for the Victorians. To deal with it, they founded the first modern police forces and prisons, and enacted reforms such as abolishing public executions and the jailing of debtors. x
  • 28
    Gladstone and Disraeli—1865-1881
    These two colossal figures bestrode the world of politics, setting the benchmark for all future prime ministers. Their skills enabled Britain to adjust to rapid change without the unrest that tore at other Western countries. x
  • 29
    Ireland and Home Rule
    Among the consequences of democratic political reforms was the rise of the Irish Home Rule Party and its charismatic leader, Charles Stewart Parnell. Parnell fell in an 1890 divorce scandal and died in 1891, but the Irish Question did not go away. x
  • 30
    Democracy and Its Discontents
    Gladstone and Lord Salisbury, Disraeli's successor, continued to handle Britain's growing democratization with skill. Meanwhile, the Empire grew apace, but its splendor masked underlying economic and other weaknesses. x
  • 31
    The British in Africa—1880-1901
    What drove Britain to become deeply involved politically from one end of the continent to the other? What did the Empire's difficult struggles with the Boer settlers of southern Africa presage? x
  • 32
    Later Victorian Literature
    The late Victorian years boasted an intense concentration of brilliant authors and a series of lively, even bitter, debates about the meaning of literary art and the place of morality in it. x
  • 33
    Leisure
    Among other things, this talk explains why informed reflection on cricket and seaside holidays is essential if one wants to understand the Victorian soul. By their pastimes shall ye know them. x
  • 34
    Domestic Servants
    Domestic service employed many men, and was the commonest type of job for women in Victorian Britain. What was it like to be "downstairs," and why did late Victorians so often lament that "you can't find good help nowadays?" x
  • 35
    Victoria After Albert—1861-1901
    The Queen's sorrow over losing her husband never left her. Yet she endured, and her golden (1887) and diamond (1897) jubilee celebrations occasioned great public celebrations and a festive, imperial mood in London. x
  • 36
    The Victorian Legacy
    Looking back at the whole period, what are some of the most striking things that leap out at us? What does reflecting on them tell us about the past, about our own day and age, and about the nature of historical understanding itself? x

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Your professor

Patrick N. Allitt

About Your Professor

Patrick N. Allitt, Ph.D.
Emory University
Dr. Patrick N. Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1988. The holder of a doctorate in history from the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Allitt-an Oxford University graduate-has also taught American religious history at Harvard Divinity School, where he was a Henry Luce Postdoctoral Fellow. He was the Director of Emory College's Center for Teaching...
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Reviews

Victorian Britain is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 71.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Professor, Interesting Lectures In case you couldn't tell by the title, this is a very specialized subject. This course basically covers Britain in the 1800s, which Queen Victoria ruled for most of the century. The professor does a good job of blending chronological history with topical history. What I mean by this is that the professor provides a good chronology and teaches the course generally in chronological order. However, he has special lectures from time-to-time on topical issues, such as the life of upper class women, lower class women, and servants. If I have one complaint, and it is a minor one, it is that I listened to this course shortly after listening to the professor's course on The Rise and Fall of the British Empire. There is consequently some overlap between the courses, so I wish I had spaced them out a little more than I did. However, the professor does a good job of minimizing the overlap and providing different perspectives.
Date published: 2017-08-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A very very thorough panorama These 36 lectures cover the lot: politics, literature, architecture, medicine, the Church. I think that the course is an absolute tour de force. The lecturer is engaging, personal without being egocentric, and thorough. One thing that I particularly liked was that he often illustrates what he says with extracts from 19th century literature. I thought the series was superb.
Date published: 2017-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding presentation, comprehensive coverage I thoroughly enjoyed the 36-lecture "Victorian Britain" course by Patrick Allitt. I watched it on a portable dvd player. The material was informative, revealing, in depth, and entertaining. I was pleasantly surprised -- rather shocked, really -- to discover I actually enjoyed listening to half an hour on the few topics I dreaded, assuming they'd be dry, such as the one about Gladstone and Disraeli, which is probably more of a tribute to the talent of the lecturer than to the subject matter itself. Coverage of all aspects of the period was so wide-ranging it gave me a genuine sense of what it must have been like to live during that era, almost anywhere in the world, because of the extensive reach of the British Empire at that time: a real time traveling adventure. Professor Allitt is masterful in selecting primary source material and in incorporating meaningful quotations from first-hand accounts to provide support for various examples. Without casting judgment, he uses a sharp sense of wit and good humor when illustrating some of the more ironic and pretentious -- and occasionally cruel -- aspects of 19th century British social class structure. Professor Allitt -- whose voice bears some resemblance to that of Sean Connery -- does an excellent job of identifying and challenging conventional wisdom in regard to the Victorian dichotomy of embracing the future while romanticizing the past. The included guidebook is a well-written reference. I was so impressed with Professor Allitt's thoughtful approach, thorough coverage, and entertaining presentation style I just ordered the Industrial Revolution course because he is the presenter of that one also.
Date published: 2017-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lots of Cultural and Social History This was one of those courses that I bought and then didn't listen to for a long time. It just sat in my "digital library" waiting...and waiting...and waiting. Then one day I had to walk to the post office, so I downloaded a couple of these lectures and listened to them. Then I cursed myself for not listening to them sooner. Shortly after I completed this course, Queen Victoria became hip again and there was a television miniseries about her reign. Thanks to this course, I felt I knew what was what. I think I was initially worried that this would be a political survey of Victoria's reign. The course has some politics , but it is balanced with plenty of cultural and social history, too. The professor quotes Dickens on a number of occasions. He also quotes other authors, too: Eliot, Thackery, Trollope, Arnold, Wilde, and others. I would also rate the professor presentation highly. Professor Allitt seems to be enjoying himself as he lectures, and from time to time will actually chuckle at things he says. I'll probably listen to other courses from this dude. As I said earlier, I listened to the first few lectures while I walked to the Post Office. If you have reason to walk to the Post Office, I think these lectures would suit you well. But it doesn't have to be the Post Office. You could be walking to the post office or the store. Or to the park. Or somewhere else. Maybe even on a treadmill enjoying the futility of moving but not getting anywhere. I listened to some of these lectures while sitting in a chair, and I can vouch for the fact that they are good both from a sedentary or ambulatory position.
Date published: 2017-03-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Victorian Britain DVD was not sharp - definitely out of focus. Difficulty in understanding presenters speech patterns.
Date published: 2017-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masterpiece Theatre, the back story Professor Allitt takes you through the paradoxes of the Victorian era. The glories of the British empire are close enough to our present time that we can appreciate the leap to machines with the industrial revolution. Those of us who are English speakers, certainly enjoy the benefit of its global penetration, but in this class you will also learn about the the dark side of Victorian Britain. Commerce without morality. I'm half way through, and the list of horrors keeps piling up. This class is a good opportunity to remove your rose colored glasses.
Date published: 2017-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I enjoyed the comprehensiveness, covering cultural, religious, social and economic as well as political and military developments in Victorian Britain. Also, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland were presented well, not just England. One gains a remarkable insight into the daily lives of people of all classes in nineteenth-century Britain. My understanding was considerably broadened. Professor Allitt is a wonderful lecturer, who blends narrative, analysis, example and wit.
Date published: 2017-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly delightful As a social history of the Victorian period in Britain, this was informative, wide-ranging and absolutely fascinating. Before this course, my knowledge of the era came largely from novels from or about that time. The professor's topics rounded out my vague impressions with lessons on the class system, the lives of servants and the upper class, the development of democracy in Britain, the grinding poverty during the period and the impact of the British rail system on many aspects of social life, including (surprisingly) sports. I especially liked the way he brought in illuminating quotes from literary figures like Hardy, Dickens, Trollope, Tennyson and Kipling, as well as a few authors with more humble reputations. The professor's delivery is conversational and jovial, for the most part There is significant duplication with the professor's course on the British Empire, which I had just previously listened to. This course seemed to me much more evenhanded in its approach to the material than the British Empire course, which I felt was too much in favor of the British Empire. I believe this course will stand the test of time quite well, and I strongly recommend it.
Date published: 2016-12-21
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