Victorian Britain

Course No. 8490
Professor Patrick N. Allitt, Ph.D.
Emory University
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Course No. 8490
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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
 |  Average 30 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
    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
    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
    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
    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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Victorian Britain is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 92.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Death by Quotation This is my third course by Professor Allitt. "History of the United States" did not draw me in but I thought "The Rise and Fall of the British Empire" was wonderfully done. So I suppose this course was going to be the tiebreaker/rubber match in some respects. Unfortunately, it did not deliver according to my expectations. I think the best way I can sum up my assessment is a comment from another reviewer: this course felt like one long collection of antcedotes. It seemed to be lacking in "teaching" and narrating political history. Instead it was like the professor just wanted to share a number of stories he had collected concerning first hand accounts of very specific individuals vs. providing general information on a topic or event. His summary comments of what these quotes were supposed to illustrate seemed forced or squeezed in at the last minute like they were secondary to what one specific person thought about something and had written. While I think some of the recitations certainly helped paint the picture of what life was like, the sheer number of them and the time dedicated to the quotations left me wondering if I had purchased a course on "Short Story Accounts of Victorian Britions". It felt like a majority of the lecture times were spent reading someone's quotes and the endless flow caused me to forget what topic was being discussed or what point the professor was trying to illustrate with the quote. I would've preferred more analysis/conclusions/teaching. Another shortcoming was the way the professor opened and closed lectures. He would start off each lecture by providing a preview of a major historical event or time period that he was going to discuss in more detail later in the lecture. But he wouldn’t frame it as such which resulted in me thinking that was the one and only time he’d describe something and I was left wondering why he didn’t provide more meat to the event and why he was moving to the next item so fast. If he would’ve explained it was a preview and he would get into further detail later in the lecture then some of the relation of the events wouldn’t feel so disjointed. This approach wouldn’t leave any real drama relating to the result of the event to hold your attention (such as which side would win a major battle) so it was like you had all the answers in a minute and all that was left was repeating it by providing details The professor often concluded his lectures in a somewhat abrupt manner: there wasn’t much summation of the key points of the lecture or a preview of what the next lecture had in store so there were times when the professor would make a point and suddenly there’d be applause to mark the end of the lecture without any warning that it was winding down! I understand 30 minutes is short and less time on summation means more can be squeezed in but how long does it take for one to mention "in summary..." or "in conclusion..."? 30 seconds? Small price to pay to avoid those abrupt endings/annoying applause at weird times. There were highlights: lectures 1-5, 12, 15-19, 29, 31, and 35. Specifically I thought his analysis on British attitudes towards the American Civil War was excellently done and well worth my time. My goal going in was to get a sense of the political history of this period, what everyday society was like, how the nation was transforming, and what factors actually constitute "Victorian Britain" (i.e. what makes it different from other periods). While I think most of those goals were met (a little less on the last one), the way we got here was not what I'd expected at all. But every professor has their own style and this one may resonate with you. For my money though if you are looking for information on this time period I would recommend Professor Allitt's other course: "The Rise and Fall of the British Empire" and "Foundations of Western Civilization II - A History of the Modern Western World" by Professor Robert Bucholz.
Date published: 2018-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Victorian Britain in the Round Professor Allitt has constructed a wonderfully well-rounded course, as you can see from the lecture list. It covers British politics, industrialization, poverty, sanitation, religion, women’s lives, social class, crime, trade unions, colonial wars, art, architecture, literature, leisure and sports. With one exception that I’ll mention later, it is hard to imagine anything else he might have included. As Allitt points out, 19th century Britain was a place and time of stunning contrasts. Commerce and industry generated immense fortunes for the new economic elite while the masses wallowed in squalor and filth, though their lot gradually improved after 1850. The worst case was 1840s Ireland, where the potato blight killed the potatoes, starved to death at least a million people, and forced most of the rest to leave the country forever. Evangelical preachers led the middle class into a new era of strict morality while London streets teemed with ladies of the evening. Middle-class readers little affected by the hardships of ordinary life learned all about them from the new mass literature. Liberal politicians promised that global free trade would make war unnecessary even as the British government beat down Chinese, Indian, African and Boer armies to secure itself the benefits of that trade, most infamously in opium for the Chinese market. In 1851 British industry dominated the world, loudly advertising itself at the London Crystal Palace, yet in less than fifty years it began an irreversible slide into obsolescence and decline. The second strength of this course is its many biographies. Those of you who have had some history courses in college will likely have heard of prime ministers Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone, Irish nationalist Charles Parnell, scientists Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin, nursing pioneer and sanitary reformer Florence Nightingale, novelists Charles Dickens, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, and Thomas Hardy, playwright Oscar Wilde, poet and colonial advocate Rudyard Kipling, explorer David Livingstone and of course Queen Victoria. But there are many others here who deserve to be well known and are not, at least not in the US. For example, there are the railroad entrepreneurs George Stephenson and Isembard Brunel, the latter also a great steamship builder, the Anglican apologist John Henry Newman, who converted to Roman Catholicism, the self-help writer Samuel Smiles, the explorer John Speke, who with Richard Burton was the first-known European to see Lake Victoria and correctly identified it as the source of the Nile River, and Victoria’s favorite personal servant Abdul Kareem, a/k/a “the Munshi,” who in the 1890s may have been passing state secrets to Muslim militants in India. I have just a few objections. The domestic servants lecture is very good, but it should have immediately followed Lectures 6 and 7 on women rather than being tacked on near the end as number 34. Professor Allitt is too easily dismissive of Irish nationalists’ arguments that the British (read English) government callously allowed Ireland to starve. Worse, he completely ignores the great two Indian famines of the late 19th century that dwarfed Ireland’s. For more on this topic, see Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocausts, published the year (2001) before this course came out. In delivering his lectures, Allitt sometimes stumbles and hesitates as he generally does not in his other, later courses. On the other hand, I really like his use of contemporary literature to illustrate social conditions, and I love his discussion of criminal jargon in Lecture 27, like “skinning” for stealing children’s clothing, “divers” for housebreakers, “rampsmen” for muggers, and “baby farmers” for something you may not want to know about. Despite a bit of overlap I can also highly recommend Allitt’s course on the Industrial Revolution. There is also one on the British Empire, though I found it somewhat disappointing. For more English history, there are also Jennifer Paxton’s The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest, Robert Bucholz’s History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts and his History of London, all excellent. Teaching Company, we need two more courses on England, one to cover the period from 1714 to 1815 and another for the 20th century!
Date published: 2018-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good topics Learned a lot about the Victorian Age. Found it interesting and enjoyed taking the course.
Date published: 2018-07-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Little Like Reading a 19th Century Novel Have thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Allitt's ramble through Victorian England. This seems to be a relatively old course, so it suffers from what many of the Great Courses do, missed opportunity to use graphics (even maps) to enliven the lecture. Yes, there are a few maps and a few portraits, but given the wealth of material available, not enough to make the course superb instead of merely good. Dr. Allitt has an impish sense of humor and is a master of finding the right quote from a Victorian to illustrate any given situation. He has apparently read not only history but almost all source material and does a good job of recommending the most valuable primary sources for further study. The course is well organized and is very easy viewing. The only minus is perhaps the abruptness of the close of each session--if you're not watching the time and expecting it, there's not much summation. But that's a minor flaw. Again, thoroughly enjoyable.
Date published: 2018-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and entertaining! It is fun to learn about a period that has so influenced the current era. How interesting that Prince Albert found interesting, important ways to contribute to Victoria's monarchy.
Date published: 2018-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Victoria and Victorian Britain I watched this course while also watching the PBS Masterpiece series Victoria. While the latter, of course, took some dramatic license, they were a wonderful compliment to each other. I highly recommend both. As others have noted, the professor is an excellent presenter, but the course may be due for a second edition update.
Date published: 2018-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent lectures The lectures are excellent, presented by an acknowledged expert in the Victorian world. My only concern is that they are a bit dated in delivery, from 2003. The addition of pertinent graphics and illustrations can certainly enhance several concepts.
Date published: 2018-02-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Awful professor Worst professor I've had in 30 or so GC's. Will be returned.
Date published: 2018-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So Far Away--and Yet So Very Close I listened to this course immediately after finishing England: from the Tudors to the Stuarts, and how happy I am that I did! There's only a gap of 123 years in a period spanning 416 years between these two courses. The earlier one focused in particular on the movement of Great Britain from a Kingdom to a "constitutional monarchy". This one focused on how Great Britain became the first industrial country on earth and, for a brief time, its largest empire. Professor Allitt suffered a little bit by the immediate comparison to the prior lecturer, Professor Bucholz, who had a marvelous dry sense of humor and superb rhetorical style, but nevertheless Dr. Allitt is also a fine historian and gave a fully engaging series of 36 lectures. He tries to cover the broadest possible range of subjects from this period: religion, politics, literature, architecture, trade and commerce, the class structure of England, its colonial policies and practices, and yes, its racism, and its interesting ability to simultaneously hold in the mind that their task was to enlighten and Christianize the natives---and also to steal all they could from them, and to crush them if they revolted. This was the "white man's burden", quite openly advocated in Victorian days--and which translated, in America, to the idea of "manifest destiny". He dwells on several unique aspects of British history in this period: not only that it was the first country to "industrialize", but also how it essentially avoided any revolutionary upheavals in its society for roughly 200 years, while most other countries went through one or more of these (such as America's civil war, multiple revolutions in France, and so on). How, despite being overtly racist, it made the decision to prohibit the practice of slavery throughout its empire, and even tried to suppress its practice in areas which it didn't even control, well before Lincoln issued the "Emancipation Proclamation" in the United States. Summing up toward the end, he enumerates some of the strengths of Victorian Britain, and some of its prominent weaknesses. Many historians apparently point to Queen Victoria's "diamond jubilee" in 1897 as the high-point of the British empire. By the time she passed away in 1901, signs of rot and decay were already becoming apparent even before the great tragedy of World War I. Sitting here in America in 2018, having listened to this course on Victorian England, I can see this country's trajectory as being so strongly influenced from the outset by both the strengths and weaknesses of Great Britain, from which so many of the early European immigrants came here, and in other aspects as repeating, in a later century, the same ascendancy and decline which Great Britain underwent in the Victorian Era. I learned a lot; I forgot much but I will also retain much. If you live in any country which was once part of the British Empire, you are apt to find this history of interest.
Date published: 2018-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful, on industrial and social revolution A great series. I really like the way Professor Allitt explains the society changing from a largely illiterate farming country to a modern great industrial one and how railroads,industry, social class, laws and penal codes, navy, wars, all interact to make huge changes on all levels. Very entertaining as well as informative
Date published: 2018-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Covers all areas. I bought this because I read a lot about tjis time in history. Loved the presentor. He knew his material and being of English descent added the dialect. Would recommend it to anyone interested in Victoria it's a must.
Date published: 2017-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Prof. Allitt is a wonderful teacher of history Professor Allitt is a marvelous teacher of history. I have listened to all of his Great Courses and I cannot recommend them highly enough. Rather that giving a dry recital of facts he makes history come alive with insightful biographical detail. This may not please historians who see history as a process of impersonal objective forces, but it certainly entertains and informs the reader and makes his lectures stick in the listener’s mind. He does all this with aplomb and a sense of humor. I hope he will continue to produce courses for the Teaching Company.
Date published: 2017-11-29
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
Rated 5 out of 5 by from enjoyable I found the course very interesting. The professor knows his material. I especially like his incorporation of Victorian literature into the lecture. There was a little overlap with his course on the Rise and Fall of the British Empire, but not too much. I still felt very engaged with the lectures.
Date published: 2016-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and Informative Video: DVD This is a very interesting course. While the Victorians are not far removed from us in time, for many today they have a bad reputation. Professor Allitt brings Victorian Britain to the fore to help us understand what life was like in that era, exploring the many achievements and sometimes quite appalling shortcomings. It has been noted that the past is a foreign country, defying our assumptions and contemporary interests and sensibilities. Professor Allitt does a fine job in presenting us with the Victorians on their own terms and often in their own words. He provides excellent explanations of and numerous insights into key aspects of Victorian Britain. Especially noteworthy perhaps is that “For most people throughout the Victorian period, life was a matter of chronic anxiety. There was no ‘rags to riches’ mythology—no idealism about class mobility…” (Course Guidebook, Page 132). Though there is much in this course on industry, religion, politics, social strata, science and medicine, art and music, literature, education, trade, and wars, Professor Allitt brings home in many of the lectures this aspect of “anxiety”, showing us how hard life was for many and the related attempts at amelioration. With all of this as background, Professor Allitt ably explains why Britain quite surprisingly did not experience a revolution or civil war as did most European nations during the period. This is not an in-depth course, but a fine survey and introduction to Victorian Britain. I have done a fair amount of reading about the period (including Kellow Chesney’s 1970 ‘The Victorian Underworld’, which Professor Allitt relies upon considerably in discussion of crime), mostly in support of my interest in Victorian fiction. I especially like Dickens, Eliot, and Trollope (my favorite), and, at the time of this course viewing, was reading Henry James’ atypical 1886 “The Princess Casamassima”, much of which concerns the London poor and contemporary radical politics. From all of this, as far as I am concerned, Professor Allitt has it right. Professor Allitt has a wonderful delivery, including suitable irony, humor, and a good sense of when and what to quote. I am especially impressed with his crafting of the lectures, ensuring that he properly carries forward the narrative, weaving the facts and developments into a fine fabric. This is notably evident in his decision to leave Domestic Servants to lecture thirty-four, and his treatment of Victoria herself throughout the course. Though I enjoyed the video, audio would likely work well. I found, however, that though there is not an abundance of pictures and other illustrations, there is enough to make a difference for me in seeing pictures of people, places, and things discussed. It should be noted that in this 2002 video, illustrations seem poorly presented compared to those in more recent TC video courses. Also, for some reason, this course is not available for viewing via purchasers’ TC digital library. It would have been more convenient to view many of the lectures on my tablet rather than being tied to my DVD player. The course is accompanied by a 171-page guidebook. While many of the summaries are shorter than I would like, the guidebook has all of the other elements expected, including a fine annotated bibliography, biographical notes, and glossary. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2016-07-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Overview If you're ever been interested in Victorian Britain then this is the course for you. While the lecture lengths don't allow time to really drill down into a singular topic, the course covers a wide range of material is just enough detail to give someone a good sense of the period. If you're already an expert, than this may be a bit basic, but for someone like myself who's always been interested in the time period but didn't know a lot about it, this has just been perfect!
Date published: 2016-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Queen's Era This course has two main ways of proceeding. The first part is composed of narrative lectures, which is followed loosely and has some degree of overlap. This brings us from the beginning of Victorian Britain to the end. The other part is made up of thematic lectures on the social characteristics of the period. I recently reviewed a course that was entirely sociologically orientated, and it made me question if it was even truly history. At other times, many of the courses have so little focus on the people that the history almost completely ignores that there is something beneath the layers of politics that are recorded. This course combines both elements with a great degree of competence, and shows how history can be, and should be, done. While there were times where I was frustrated by a lack of cohesive narrative, Professor Allitt was clear that this course would not clearly conform to such a narrative. Really, the only concrete complaint I have about this course is that Britain was not really put into context with respect to the rest of Europe. It was alluded to, but never properly addressed. Where do we go from here? Foundations of Western Civilization II puts the events happening in Victorian Britain into context, and greatly expands upon the narrative. A lot of it is surface material when focused on any one nation, but it is an invaluable next step to understanding the rest of the world. The history of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts focuses much more narrowly on the earlier periods of British history, though there is a bit of a gap concerning the Hanoverian Dynasty. The Conservative Tradition is a course from Allitt, and will teach you about the evolving nature of Anglo-American conservationism, provided this course sparked an interest the evolution of political ideas. One last note: professor Allitt can, at times, be an acquired taste. I do not mind him, but if you were not thrilled by him in this lecture series, you will find many of those same traits in his other courses. Likewise if you have purchased a course from him in the past, and are considering purchasing this one.
Date published: 2016-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Personal, anecdotal, wonderful!! This is my third course in Professor Allitt’s trilogy focusing on modern British history, the other two being the rise and fall of the British Empire and the industrial revolution. This one, more than the other two, is focused strictly on the land of Britain. The other two courses focus on pivotal aspects in the British Victorian era – so the three courses are deeply entangled one with the other and can’t really be taught independently. It is of little wonder therefore that massive amounts of the material are repeated in at least two, if not all three courses. This is a substantial flaw if one is interested in all three subjects. The good news is that all three are delightful and fascinating, and well worth persevering this substantial shortcoming. This course feels particularly unrushed; a “slow course” (paraphrasing on “slow food”). Professor Allitt proceeds to give a multidimensional and diverse account of what Britain was like during the nineteenth century from countless different perspectives: the different classes, health, employment, literature and arts, Empire building, the Monarch herself, the industrial dominance of Britain in this era... This is by no means an exhaustive list and I bring it here only to demonstrate how wide and comprehensive the canvas is. Professor Allitt’s presentation is perfectly suited for delivering such a course: his tone is conversational and pleasant, and the lectures feel intimate. He often voices his own opinions and positions on the items he covers, either explicitly, or by chuckling enthusiastically while quoting a passage from one of the writers he likes (a delightful technique he uses often in the course), or by reading in a slightly disapproving or questioning tone some that he doesn’t. All of this makes you feel as if you were carrying a dinner conversation with a particularly well informed and intelligent friend. A wonderful and delightful course…
Date published: 2016-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Why did Britannia rule the waves? Listen to the course and find out. It's fascinating that a country ruled by a class who despised commerce came lead the industrial revolution. And what a change it was, the story of the prominent government official killed during the first locomotive competition, he had no concept of the speed of 30 miles per hour and was struck whilst crossing the track is illuminating. The Irish famine is seen somewhat differently in Ireland. But this course does give you an understanding of how such a small island came to straddle the world, and Queen Victoria's role in this.
Date published: 2016-02-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Mixed feelings I came to this course after having just gone through "The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest" followed by "History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts" and I thought that I was ready to jump into the next era of English History. Those two courses had captured my attention and held my interest and I thought that this next one on "Victorian Britain" would do the same. Perhaps it suffered from comparison or perhaps it an inevitable reaction to one who lived in "the age of the sequel," but I found my interest quickly waning and it was not long before I was ready to move to a different subject. I cannot fault the professor for whom I have no specific criticism, and I admittedly do not find all subjects to be equally interesting. I have never yet returned a course and I am inclined to come back some time in the future and give this course a second chance.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course on Long Reigning UK Monarch Queen Victoria was the longest reigning UK monarch until September 2015 when she was superseded by her great-great-granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II. The Victorian age under the rule of Queen Victoria had major impacts to all aspects of life and to Britain’s global empire. Some of the influences of the Victorian age are influencing today’s lives. Professor Allitt does a wonderful job of presenting the various aspects of the Victorian age for all levels of society from the elite to the commoners. Professor Allitt also explains the influence of the Victorian age on industrial evolution, politics, trade unions, literature, art, medicine, global geography, and global economics. The Victorian age also had indirect influences on the lives in the United States. Professor Allitt presents this information with enthusiasm, extensive knowledge, and bits of humor. Overall, it is a wonderful experience for the viewer. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2015-12-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course - But a troublesome lecture I have several courses taught by Prof. Patrick N. Allitt; The Conservative Tradition and the Industrial Revolution. He is an excellent speaker and the content of his lectures are full of valuable material. I enjoy his bits of quotes from people of the period which makes the information very personal. I have only given the course 4 stars because of one lecture on the working women. Honestly, it left me feeling bothered. I had to put it away for a few days and listen to something else. It focused on the lives of working-class women and how it was very difficult to make a living. Many turned to prostitution. It was very widespread with even maids and domestics making money on the side doing this sort of work. It was very sad to hear and I don't want to shy away of raw facts, but I think that human nature doesn't change that much. It is the oldest profession or so I am told. I know from an older Teaching Company course on Victorian England about the exploits of Oscar Wilde and the boys who sold themselves on the street. I put that one away for a time too. It really affected me. It isn't that the topic is bothersome. It is that the professor's almost tell the stories with delight. Much information is given that you feel like, 'Yeah, yeah, enough already. We get the picture." For instance, Prof. Allitt reads from a book written at the time by a man who details his exploits with women as he travels around in pursuit of as many women (mostly prost------) that he can. He talks about how he eventually settled on domestic servants who were cleaner and more appreciative. This really bothered me that Prof. Allitt could read from this with perfect humor and levity. I was totally disgusted. My thoughts were that the servant may be appreciative (according to him) until she finds out the disease she now has from his filth. This stuff goes on today. The only thing different is that the loose women today wouldn't ask for money. You go to the bad parts in major cities and find prostitution. I felt a little strange about how much focus was put on the seedier side in this lecture and the delightful delivery by the professor. . This may be just me. I may be the listener who still uses her guts and instincts to decide if I like something.
Date published: 2015-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great professor I like all of his courses. He provides a refreshing "foreign" point of view (being English), which is something this company is lacking! You should look around the world for great professors (especially in Russia, China, Latin America, Africa, the Balkans) - I am sure there are many who speak excellent English (or you could provide subtitles!), and who would be very happy to participate in this endeavor, especially considering this company's reputation. This professor provides lots of information and especially good quotes to support his material. Although he is sometimes a bit biased to the English, he does show embarrassment at being so.
Date published: 2015-01-11
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