ENL4934 Senior Seminar: Technology, the Novel, and “The New” in Victorian Britain
Instantaneous communication across vast distances, spurring an information revolution. Faster vehicles and increased mobility. Remarkable effects produced by new visual media. An explosion in the amount and availability of printed matter. The commercialization and commodification of “tradition” and culture. A revolution in medical science bringing many diseases within reach of cure or prevention. Immense shifts in the domestic economy as industry responds to new manufacturing techniques and a new global economy. A superpower nation interested in knowing and controlling its dominions abroad. Sound familiar? These are all examples of the intensely paced changes that technology and “the new” brought to nineteenth-century British society. In this course, we will study how Victorian literature and culture registered, responded to, and even contributed to the development and effects of innovations such as the telegraph, the railway, optical instruments and toys such as the microscope, the magic lantern, and the phenakistoscope, advertising, aniline dyes, printing and publishing innovations, factories and industrialization, the 1851 Exhibition and Crystal Palace, electricity, photography and cinema, and the Indian Survey. We will examine debates over science, “progress,” and the role of history. Reading list includes Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, H. G. Wells, and Rudyard Kipling, as well as Victorian scientific and literary texts and contemporary cultural criticism.