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Remembering the Victorians: The shaping role of literature and place

Remembering the Victorians: The shaping role of literature and place

How can research on the 19th-century novel and its creation of a sense of local belonging in a global world enrich the practices of museums, archives, and heritage sites associated with authors?

Current author commemorations tend to emphasise the biographical over the textual and literary. Professor John and Professor Livesey, from the Centre for Victorian Studies at Royal Holloway, which specialises in research on space, place, and 19th-century culture, built partnerships with museums and local organisations to enhance interpretation strategies around literature and place.

Enhancing heritage interpretation in museums and libraries

Professor John co-curated ‘Global Dickens: For Every Nation on Earth’ at the Dickens Museum, London which was attended by just under 24,000 visitors. The inclusion of Captain Scott’s copy of David Copperfield in the exhibition garnered extensive media coverage in relation to the role of fiction in providing a sense of home and place in a world on the move. Further reach was enabled by the exhibition vlogs, which included Dickens the Restless Writer of HomeDickens travels to the Ends of the Earth and Curly Locks and Global Fame: Dickens the International Celebrity, along with a museum volunteer enrichment session. John has appeared on a number broadcast programmes to talk about the exhibition, including radio, Start the Week with Andrew Marr on BBC Radio 4, Resonance FM, Radio 3, Radio Surrey, and TV, BBC 4, SRF (Swiss National Broadcaster) and an interview feature on CTGN (China Global Television Network).

Understanding place through literary heritage

Professor Livesey’s research had significant impact on the curatorial presentation of the bicentenary Eliot exhibition at Nuneaton Art Gallery and Museum which was attended by 7000 visitors and reported record success in engaging local schools. It also led to new interpretation materials co-produced with the local George Eliot Fellowship including a new walking map which is featured on the official heritage trails. With the Landmark Trust, she co-produced a new education pack centred on Eliot’s connections to Astley Castle, used in a workshop with pupils and teachers from a local school to enhance their understanding about the significance of their home town. Livesey’s research was quoted several times in national media coverage of the Eliot bicentenary and she was a featured guest in podcasts and radio interviews including BBC R6 Music, Cerys Matthew Show, Andrew Marr’s Start the WeekBBC Free Thinking Podcast, ‘Bonnets at Dawn’ podcast’, and advised on and appeared in BBC4 Arena ‘Everything is Connected: George Eliot’s life. 

Providing CPD for English teachers

The requirement to teach 19th-century literature at GCSE with a strong sense of context has created a clear need for research-led enrichment. Both John and Livesey have delivered bespoke CPD events on ‘global’ Dickens and Eliot, community and place in partnership with the Prince’s Trust Initiative. Following a workshop hosted by the George Eliot Fellowship, Livesey co-produced a package of lessons and resources for KS3 featured by the Prince’s Trust Initiative in its resources for Key Stage 3 for the Prince’s Trust Initiative online teaching resources.


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