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Study information

Making Progress? Literature in a Changing Environment

Module titleMaking Progress? Literature in a Changing Environment
Module codeEASM099
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Professor John Plunkett (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

The perception of history as one of continual progress, enlightenment and improvement was one of the most powerful narratives of the nineteenth century. The myth of progress underpinned a wide variety of changes in the Victorian period, including, among others, the economic conditions of commercial growth; the Woman Question; financial prosperity and surplus goods; the global conditions of imperial expansion; attitudes to nature and the environment; the impact of new technologies and industrialization; and the theory of evolution. Making Progress explores the contrasting ways in which Victorian writers defined and responded to this narrative of progress and to a culture that was changing spectacularly around them.

Module aims - intentions of the module

Making Progress focuses on key texts alongside literary and non-literary contextual sources. You  will study selected poetry, fiction and prose in relation to evolving debates in these areas. Seminars will focus on key social, cultural and literary issues that dominated the period of 1830-1870. These issues include industry, education, nature and the environment, gender and sexuality, science, religion, politics and economics. Topics students will explore include the role of the artist in a changing environment, the remediation of the past, new understandings of nature and the human, adjustments in gender and class relations, the changing nature of literary forms, the rise of industrial society and its new politics, alterations in knowledge and belief systems (especially those relating to science and religion), and the emergence of London as a global metropolis.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate an advanced knowledge and understanding of key social, intellectual, and ideological issues in nineteenth-century interdisciplinary studies, and familiarity with various literary styles and genres.
  • 2. Demonstrate an advanced critical understanding of intimate relations between aesthetics and the social, economic, political, scientific, and cultural debates of the Victorian period.
  • 3. Demonstrate an advanced knowledge of researching a variety of literary and other media from the nineteenth century using physical and electronic resources.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Demonstrate a sophisticated and intellectually mature ability to analyse different types of literature and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its historical context.
  • 5. Demonstrate an advanced and autonomous ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history.
  • 6. Demonstrate an advanced ability to digest, select, and organise interdisciplinary material and to trace the development of debate across disciplinary boundaries.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Through essay-writing, demonstrate advanced research and bibliographic skills, an advanced capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and to write clear and correct prose
  • 8. Through the writing of an extended essay and research report, demonstrate an ability to construct work of substantial length, detail, and some originality
  • 9. Through responses to constructive feedback, demonstrate an advanced and intellectually mature ability to reflect upon and strengthen written and other work.

Syllabus plan

Topics covered in the module may include:

• Visions of Progress
• Global Victorians
• Dis-united nations?
• Ecologies and Pollution
• Poetry and Modern Life.
• Information Revolutions.
• Sensations and Emotions
• The Terror(ism) of History.
• Christmas Carols

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching22Seminars
Guided Independent Study175Reading, research and essay preparation
Guided Independent Study70Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided Independent Study33Online research into Victorian primary sources

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Research Report252500 words1-9Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Essay 755000 word essay1-9Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Research ReportResearch Report1-9Referral/Deferral period
5000 word essay5000 word essay1-9Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 50%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 50%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

  • George Eliot, Middlemarch (Penguin Classics, 2003)
  • Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (Penguin Classics, 2003)
  • Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South (Oxford UP, 2008)

Secondary Reading

  • Isobel Armstrong, Victorian Glasswords: Glass Culture and the Imagination 1830-1880(OUP, 2008)
  • Martin Hewitt, ed. The Victorian World (Routledge, 2012)
  • Paul Young, Globalization and the Great Exhibition: The Victorian New World Order (Palgrave, 2009)
  • John Plunkett, Paul Young, Angelique Richardson, Regenia Gagnier, Rick Rylance and Ana Parejo Vadillo, eds. Victorian Literature: A Sourcebook, (Palgrave, 2012)
  • Juliet John, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture (Oxford University Press, 2016)
  • Rohan McWilliam and Kelly Boyd, ed. The Victorian Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 2007)
  • John Plunkett, Queen Victoria: First Media Monarch (OUP 2003)
  • Jenny Bourne Taylor and Sally Shuttleworth, eds. Embodied Selves: An Anthology of Psychological Texts, 1830-1890 (OUP, 1998)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Victorian, progress, globabisation, the city, industrial revolution, modernity, emotions, realism

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date

June 2013

Last revision date