Victorian Britain

Examine the strengths and foibles of Victorian Britain with an award-winning professor.

Overview

Discover the facts and foibles of the paradoxical Britons under the reign of Queen Victoria, as Britain became the world's pioneer in industrialization that transformed social classes and created both immense wealth and squalor. This colonial empire, based on technical superiority and widespread belief in Anglo-Saxon racial supremacy, made Britain the most powerful nation in the world and left behind an indelible legacy.

About

Patrick N. Allitt
Patrick N. Allitt

Nostalgia is the enemy of history. 'Downton Abbey' is great fun but it's not history. If seeing or reading something historical makes you feel warm and cosy, it's probably very inaccurate.

INSTITUTION

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 and Curriculum from 2004 to 2009, where he looked for ways to improve teaching. In this critical administrative position, he led workshops on a wide variety of teaching-related problems, visited dozens of other professors' classes, and provided one-on-one consultation to teachers to help them overcome particular pedagogical problems. Professor Allitt was honored with Emory's Excellence in Teaching Award and in 2000 was appointed to the N.E.H./Arthur Blank Professorship of Teaching in the Humanities. A widely published and award-winning author, Professor Allitt has written several books, including The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities throughout American History; Catholic Intellectuals and Conservative Politics in America, 1950-1985; Catholic Converts: British and American Intellectuals Turn to Rome; and Religion in America since 1945: A History. He is also author of I'm the Teacher, You're the Student: A Semester in the University Classroom, a memoir about one semester in his life as a university professor. In addition, he is the editor of Major Problems in American Religious History. He has written numerous articles and reviews for academic and popular journals, including The New York Times Book Review.

By This Professor

The Victorian Paradox

01: 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....

32 min
Victoria's Early Reign-1837-61

02: Victoria's Early Reign-1837-61

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....

30 min
The Industrial Revolution-1750-1830

03: 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....

30 min
Railways and Steamships

04: 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?...

31 min
Parliamentary Reform and Chartism

05: 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....

31 min
The Upper and Middle Class Woman

06: 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....

30 min
The Working-Class Woman

07: 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....

31 min
The State Church and Evangelical Revival

08: 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....

31 min
The Oxford Movement and Catholicism

09: 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....

31 min
Work and Working-Class Life

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....

31 min
Poverty and the

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....

30 min
Ireland, Famine, and Robert Peel

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....

30 min
Scotland and Wales

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....

30 min
Progress and Optimism

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....

31 min
China and the Opium War

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....

28 min
The Crimean War-1854-1856

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....

32 min
The Indian Mutiny-1857

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?...

31 min
Victorian Britain and the American Civil War

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....

31 min
The British in Africa-1840-1880

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....

30 min
Victorian Literature I

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....

30 min
Art and Music

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....

31 min
Science

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....

31 min
Medicine and Public Health

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....

31 min
Architecture

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?...

30 min
Education

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....

31 min
Trade Unions and the Labour Party

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....

32 min
Crime and Punishment

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....

31 min
Gladstone and Disraeli-1865-1881

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....

31 min
Ireland and Home Rule

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....

31 min
Democracy and Its Discontents

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....

31 min
The British in Africa-1880-1901

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?...

32 min
Later Victorian Literature

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....

31 min
Leisure

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....

31 min
Domestic Servants

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?"...

31 min
Victoria After Albert-1861-1901

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....

30 min
The Victorian Legacy

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?...

31 min