Fall 2016 - HIST 415 E100

Victorian Britain (4)

Class Number: 4772

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 5:30 PM – 9:20 PM
    HCC 2280, Vancouver

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units including nine units of lower division history. Recommended: one or more of HIST 224, 314, 315.



A study of major developments and controversies -- social, cultural, political, religious, economic -- during the period of the rise of industrial and class society.


The Victorian period (roughly the 1830s-1900) saw the rise of Britain as the world's leading industrial and imperial power. This seminar examines the social, political, cultural, and technological history of Britain during this crucial period. Topics include the industrial city and factory work, the social experiences of the rich, the poor and the destitute, the building of imposing Victorian institutions like the workhouse and the prison, and the transformation of rural society in an age of machines. Since Victorian Britain was an important incubator for liberal economic and political thought, we will examine some core liberal texts and chart the ascent of the Liberal Party to dominance. Other topics include the social effects of steam power and gas lighting, the experience of the Empire at home, the Great Famine in Ireland, print culture (e.g. newspapers and serial novels), and the challenge of new science – especially Darwin and his precursors - to Victorian cosmologies. We also will consider how social movements challenged the British Constitution at several key flash points, including the machine-breaking Luddites and “Swing Rioters,” the Chartist working class movement of the 1830s- 1840s, the women's suffrage movement, the Hyde Park “riots” of 1867, and the campaign for Irish home rule that polarized British politics in the last decades of the century.

This Harbour Centre seminar meets once weekly, and each session will focus on an important problem in the historiography of the period – in other words, a question that historians still argue about. Seminar participants will write one short “book response” essay as well as a major term research paper [on topics of their choosing].


  • Seminar Participation 25%
  • Short weekly reading responses/discussion questions 25%
  • One short “book response” essay 10%
  • Term Research Paper 40%



Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton [Many editions available, and any will do. A free version exists on the  internet archive]

Lynda Nead, Victorian Babylon: People, Streets, and Images in Nineteenth Century London (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000)

James Vernon, Distant Strangers: How Britain Became Modern (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014)

Additional readings will be made available on-line for you to print or read on screens.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://students.sfu.ca/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html