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History in Focus

the guide to historical resources • Issue 1: The Victorian Era •

The Victorian Era

A portrait of Gladstone as an old man

Gladstone as an old man


Select a publisher in the selection box below, or browse down the page.

This bibliography is taken from History Online, which provides bibliographic information on books and journal articles published by UK academic publishers. The selection below represents a brief selection of books on the Victoria Era in History Online. Search History Online for other books and journal articles.


The Crimean War

Winfried Baumgart

The Crimean War extended into the Baltic, the White Sea, and even the Pacific. Baumgart argues that if the war had continued after 1856, the First World War would have taken place 60 years earlier. Not only were the five great European powers directly or indirectly involved; but all the smaller European states that had remained neutral sooner or later confronted the question of whether to join the fray or to stay outside. Ultimately the fighting ceased because diplomacy never lost its control over the use of war as an instrument in power politics.

The author brings to this new study fresh insight, probing the conflict's key issues: its origins and diplomacy; the war aims of the belligerent powers; the capacity and characteristics of their armies; and the nature of the fighting itself.

Published August 1999

Britain's Century

W. D. Rubinstein

The nineteenth century was Britain's, in the sense that during the period she more closely approached the status of world hegemonic power than ever before - or since. The workshop of the world and the homeland of the mind, Britain was an unchallenged industrial and manufacturing power, with undisputed control of the seas and the largest formal empire ever seen. She was also a place of refuge for liberal intelligentsia in flight from despotic and reactionary regimes elsewhere in the world.

Looking at the historical evolution of the central political institutions, and the social milieu surrounding them, this book helps to explain Britain's pre-eminence during the nineteenth century. The 'political' history of the country from 1815 to 1905 - a substantial part of the book - provides the necessary foundation for a social history that focuses particularly on issues of demography, religion, social class, and gender.

Published October 1998

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The Victorian Comic Spirit

Edited by Jennifer A. Wagner-Lawlor

'Comedy' and 'humour' are not words most associate with the Victorian period, yet one needs hardly look far to find a culture rife with laughter, irony, and with what Meredith and others called the 'comic spirit'. These 12 essays by noted international scholars of Victorian literature and culture reanimate that spirit by exploring humour in its social context.

While previous studies of humour in the period focus on the age's own ongoing interest in the old distinction in comic theory between wit and humour, this volume shows how inadequate this distinction is in accounting for the many types of Victorian comic representation. These essays turn from linguistic or psychological analyses of humour and turn instead toward the social production of humour and the complex cultural dynamics that underlie it. More than simply describing the multifarious faces of the Victorian comic spirit, in other words, these analyses also expose its polymorphously perverse intelligence. It is an intelligence that is self-conscious and ironical, critical and dangerous, exposing contradictions and fissures in dominant ideological discourses, unmasking their many hypocrisies.

Published March 2000

An Age of Equipoise? Reassessing mid-Victorian Britain

Edited by Martin Hewitt

The Age of Equipoise by W.L Burn was published in 1964 and became a central text in the canon of interpretations of the Victorian period. The book subsequently fell out of favour but recent claims to establish a new interpretative standard have, paradoxically, prompted reviewers to cast back to Burn's work as the orthodox standard against which such claims should be judged.

The essays in this volume by British and American contributors all engage, to varying degrees, with the notion of 'equipoise' and how it can help to illuminate the mid-Victorian period in ways which alternative formulations cannot. Some of the chapters develop arguments embedded in Burn's own book; others take up issues largely absent in The Age of Equipoise, such as the position of children, Britain's interaction with the wider world, and the threats the period experienced to its concept of masculine identity.

Together the essays demonstrate the intricacy and turbulence of the forces of cohesion in Victorian society, along with the success of that culture in achieving a working, if shifting, modus vivendi. Moreover, they substantiate the argument that, whatever the limitations of Burn's work, 'equipoise' deserves rehabilitation as a powerful conceptual framework for making sense of mid-Victorian Britain.

Published December 2000

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Cambridge University Press

Defining the Victorian Nation

Catherine Hall, Keith McClelland, Jane Rendall

Defining the Victorian Nation offers a fresh perspective on one of the most significant pieces of legislation in nineteenth-century Britain. Catherine Hall, Keith McClelland and Jane Rendall demonstrate that the Second Reform Act of 1867 was marked not only by extensive controversy about the extension of the vote, but also by new concepts of masculinity and the masculine voter, the beginnings of the movement for women's suffrage, and a parallel debate about the meanings and forms of national belonging. The chapters in this book draw on recent developments in cultural, social and gender history, broadening the study of nineteenth-century British political history and integrating questions of nation and empire. Fascinating illustrations illuminate the argument, and a detailed chronology, biographical notes and selected bibliography offer further support to the student reader. Students and scholars in history, women's studies, cultural studies, and postcolonial studies will find this book invaluable.

Published May 2000

The Demography of Victorian England and Wales

Robert Woods

The Demography of Victorian England and Wales describes in detail for the first time the changing population history of England and Wales between 1837 and 1914. Its principal focus is the great demographic revolution which occurred during those years, especially the secular decline of fertility and the origins of the modern rise in life expectancy. It is lavishly illustrated with numerous tables, figures and maps, many of which are reproduced in full colour. This clear, comprehensive and engaging reference work makes a seminal contribution to demographic history.

Published October 2000

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History of English Political Thought in the 19th Century

M. Francis and J. Morrow

A comprehensive account of the most important figures and movements in political thinking from 1800 to 1900, exploring the views of constitutional writers, literary radicals, Whigs, Tories, cultural aesthetes, evolutionists and socialists.

Manly and Muscular Diversions: the 19th Century Sporting Revival

T. Money

The fascinating story of the evolution of modern sports in Britain, illustrated with over 100 drawings, lithographs, photographs and etchings.

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Frank Cass

Famine, Land and Politics: British Government and Irish Society, 1843-50

Peter Gray

'Peter Gray has written a welcome book which reminds of the horror of the famine and the complicity of the British government in it'. Socialist Review

This book is a study of the making of Britain's Irish policy in the period immediately preceding and during the Great Famine of 1845-50. Political agitation increasingly focused attention on Irish social problems in the early 1840s, but it was the famine which forced them to the forefront of British politics. This book analyses the ideological forces underlying the decisions that had such fatal consequences for the people of Ireland and for the country's future.

Published 1999

Imperial Defence, 1868-1887

Donald M. Schurman

The technical transformation of the Royal Navy during the Victorian era posed a succession of bewildering design, tactical and operational problems for administrators from the 1830s onwards. These problems have attracted considerable scrutiny in recent years. Far less scrutiny, however, has been paid to an equally fundamental strategic quandary created by the switch from sail to steam. Sailing ships boasted impressive strategic reach, circumscribed only by coasts, shoals and nutritional requirements of crews. As steam supplanted sail, this reach vanished, with vessels whose bunkers required constant refilling from local depots and whose machinery needed frequent maintenance. The task of imperial defence - convoy, patrolling sea lanes between empire and home islands, and defending colonies from seaborne raiders - now required a far more comprehensive logistical infrastructure than had been the case during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Donald Schurman's study reveals how British statesmen, military and naval professionals, and administrators evolved a suitable response to this situation based on the creation of a system of defended coaling stations. Schurman also places the creation of this steam-age imperial defence policy firmly in the context of political ideology and partisanship, surveying the divide between Liberals and Conservatives, differences within parties, turf battles among government departments, and divergent views among politicians, soldiers and sailors wrestling with imperial policy. Based on extensive archival research, Schurman's study (his 1955 PhD thesis, now edited by John Beeler and published here for the first time) remains the definitive examination of this important subject.

Published 2000

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Manchester University Press

The Public Culture of the Victorian Middle Class: Ritual and Authority in the English Industrial City, 1840-1914

Simon Gunn

'The public culture of the Victorian middle class' is about the creation of a distinctive 'high' culture in the industrial cities of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester in the mid-nineteenth century and its incipient decline from the 1880s.

The history of urban bourgeois culture has been relatively unexplored and under-theorised compared to popular culture. The book therefore represents a significant contribution both to the study of middle-class cultural forms and to an understanding of the relationship between culture and power. In particular, it argues for the importance of ritualised modes of social behaviour in understanding the construction of authority in the nineteenth-century city. As well as many original arguments, the study provides a clear and useful overview of the public cultures of Victorian 'respectability'.

Simon Gunn locates his subject in the historiography of the nineteenth-century middle class and the literature of urban modernity. It ranges widely across forms of cultural production and social practice, including architecture, urban design, dress and etiquette, social clubs, music and civic parades and ceremonial. Each of these is evaluated in relation to a relevant body of social and cultural theory, thus combining empirical analysis with theoretical insights.

The book will be of interest to scholars and undergraduate and postgraduate students in the areas of social history, cultural history, urban history, cultural studies, urban studies and the sociology of culture.

Published October 2000

The Arctic in the British Imagination 1818-1914

Robert G. David

Victorian Britain was fascinated by the Arctic and the accounts of its exploration. The Arctic in the British Imagination 1818-1914 is the first book to draw upon recent developments in representational theory and apply them to the Arctic.

The imagined Arctic was the product of a surprising variety of representations, and in this book Robert David has roamed across travel narratives, works of art and panorama, museum displays, tableaux vivantes and international exhibitions, the illustrated press, the lectures organised by the geographical societies, a range of publications aimed at juveniles, as well as ephemeral representations such as cartoons, advertisements and board games. The study of so many forms over an extended timespan has allowed an assessment of their changing importance, and enabled a case to be made for Arctic representations following a different dynamic from those associated with more familiar locations of Empire.

The Arctic in the British imagination is illustrated with engravings, photographs and paintings drawn from a number of sources and in most cases not previously published. The book will be of interest to academics, students and enthusiasts interested in the Arctic.

Published November 2000

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Oxford University Press

The Mid-Victorian Generation, 1846-1886

Theodore Hoppen

This, the third volume to appear in the New Oxford History of England, covers the period from the repeal of the Corn Laws to the dramatic failure of Gladstone's first Home Rule Bill. Intermeshed with a detailed social and political analysis of the period, Theo Hoppen examines the influence of developments in religion, economics, science, and the arts. His magisterial study goes beyond coverage of England alone to investigate the distinct but interconnected histories of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and the Empire abroad.

New Oxford History of England
Published March 2000

Aristocratic Women and Political Society in Victorian Britain

K. D. Reynolds

This is a study of gender and power in Victorian Britain. It is the first book to examine the contribution made by women to the public culture of the British aristocracy in the nineteenth century. Based on a wide range of archival sources, it explores the roles of aristocratic women in public life, from their country estates to the salons of Westminster and the royal court. Oxford Historical Monographs

Published April 1998

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British Women in the Nineteenth Century

Kathryn Gleadle

This highly original synthesis is a clear and stimulating assessment of nineteenth-century British women. It aims to provide students with an in-depth understanding of the key historiographical debates and issues, placing particular emphasis upon recent, revisionist research. The book highlights not merely the ideologies and economic circumstances which shaped women's lives, but highlights the sheer diversity of women's own experiences and identities. In so doing, it presents a positive but nuanced interpretation of women's roles within their own families and communities, as well as stressing women's enormous contribution to the making of contemporary British culture and society.

Published August 2001

David Livingstone

Meriel Buxton

A biography of David Livingstone giving a balanced account of his strengths and weaknesses. Revered for years as a saint, he was in fact a much more interesting character, difficult, demanding and unsympathetic but also single minded, determined, patient and outstandingly brave. At ten he worked a fourteen hour day in a mill and at sixty was buried in Westminster Abbey. The first European to cross Africa, he discovered the Victoria Falls and survived shipwreck, attacks by natives and being mauled by a lion. Meriel Buxton read Law at St Hugh's College, Oxford and is a qualified but non-practising solicitor.

Published May 2001

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Pearson Education

Victorian Values

Gordon Marsden

Victorian Values is an absorbing portrait of Victorian society and culture, presenting different aspects of the age through profiles of representative or pioneering figures - among them Dickens, Pugin, Mary Kingsley, Lord Leighton, Gladstone and Joseph Chamberlain. It illuminates Victorian attitudes to a range of issues from education, health and self-help to civic ideals and sexual identity. Widely used and enjoyed by students, teachers and general readers alike, it has now been extended with four new essays and the Introduction, comparing the Victorian age with our own, has been updated and rewritten.

Published 1998

Poverty and Poor Law Reform in Nineteenth-Century Britain, 1834-1914

David Englander

The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 is one of the most important pieces of social legislation ever enacted. Its principles and the workhouse system dominated attitudes to welfare provision for the next 80 years. This new Seminar Study explores the changing ideas to poverty over this period and assesses current debates on Victorian attitudes to the poor.

Published 1998

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Pheonix Press

The Wider Sea: a Life of John Ruskin

John Dixon Hunt

An authoritative portrait of the Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford, his unhappy marriage to Effie Gray, and his life as a writer, lecturer and social reformer.

Published 1998


Sarah Bradford

This stylish biography traces Benjamin Disraeli's theatrical career from his dandyfied youth to his old age as a great Tory, Zionist, defender of the Established church, journalist, novelist and arch-intriguer. 'An admirable balance of the personal and politrical....a nuanced and sensitive picture of a very complex man'. New York Times

Published 1996

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Insanity, Institutions and Society, 1800-1914: a Social History of Madness in Comparative Perspective

Joseph Melling and Bill Forsythe (eds)

Published 1999

Prostitution: Prevention and Reform in England 1860-1914

Paula Bartley

Published 1999

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Yale University Press

Victorian Babylon: People, Streets and Images in Nineteenth-Century London

Lynda Nead

In this fascinating and innovative look at nineteenth-century London, Lynda Nead offers a new account of modernity and metropolitan life. She charts the relationship between London's formation into a modern organised city in the 1860s and the emergence of new types of production and consumption of visual culture. She considers the role visual images played in the creation of a vibrant and diverse urban culture and how new kinds of publics were created for these representations. Shifting the focus of the history of modernity from Paris to London, Nead here argues for a different understanding of gender and public space in a society where women joined the everyday life of city streets and entered the debates concerning morality, spectacle and adventure. The book draws on texts and images of many different kinds - including acts of parliament, literature, newspaper reports, private letters, maps, paintings, advertisements, posters and banned obscene publications. Taking a highly interdisciplinary approach, Nead explores such intriguing topics as the efforts of urban improvers to move water, air, traffic, goods, and people in the Victorian metropolis; the impact of gas lighting and glass on urban leisure; and the obscenity legislation that emerged in response to new forms of visual mass culture that were perceived as dangerous and pervasive.

Published September 2000

The Great Exhibition of 1851: a Nation on Display

John Auerbach

The Great Exhibition of 1851, held in London's spectacular Crystal Palace, was the first world fair and the first industrial exhibition. It was also much more, Jeffrey Auerbach demonstrates in this fascinating book: the Great Exhibition was the single defining event for nineteenth-century Britons between the Battle of Waterloo (1815) and the Diamond Jubilee (1897). Enhanced by dozens of illustrations, this wide-ranging account of the Great Exhibition uncovers for the first time how the extraordinary occasion was conceived and planned, why it was such an unexpected success, what it actually meant to the millions of Britons who visited it, and what it came to mean to later generations. The book challenges the common view that the exhibition symbolised peace, progress, prosperity, and the emergence of an industrial middle class. Auerbach suggests instead that the Great Exhibition became a cultural battlefield on which proponents of different visions of industrialisation, modernisation, and internationalism fought for ascendancy in the struggle for a new national identity. Drawing on extensive archival research in such diverse areas as politics, economics, social structure, and international relations, this book contributes not only to our understanding of British national identity in the Victorian era but also to our broader understanding of the formation of national identities in the modern era.

Published October 1999

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