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Home > History home > Prospective students > Undergraduate > From Rakes to Respectability: Society and Culture in Britain, 1815-51
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From Rakes to Respectability: Society and Culture in Britain, 1815-51


Value: one unit


Dr. Jane Hamlett


Taught through weekly two-hour seminars


3-hour exam (70%), best two of three coursework essays (20%), oral presentation (10%)

Were the early Victorians really dull and stuffy? Of course not. This course explores changes in British society and culture in the early nineteenth century, and the apparent transition from the eighteenth-century era of the rake to the respectability of the mid-Victorians. We will consider how British society was divided between rich and poor, young and old, male and female, master and servant, Anglican and nonconformist, and nation and region. We will look at how reforming Liberal governments shaped social life, and popular responses to these. How did the industrial revolution and the growth of towns and cities change nineteenth-century life? Were early Victorians really repressed sexual hypocrites? How was death celebrated in early Victorian Britain? And how was crime punished? We will examine the changing face of nineteenth-century culture, including popular politics, education, consumption, medicine as well as in visual culture and printed media. The course will draw on a variety of source materials including engravings, portraiture and early photography, alongside texts and will include trips to London museums. Overall the course will assess how the early Victorians subsequently acquired their strait-laced image, and the relationship between contemporary understandings and longer-term historical reputations.


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