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Study information

Victorian Things: Nineteenth-Century Material Culture

Module titleVictorian Things: Nineteenth-Century Material Culture
Module codeEASM168
Academic year2022/3
Module staff

Dr Tricia Zakreski (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module will explore the recent ‘material turn’ by studying the role of objects in Victorian literature and culture. The module will allow you to work through the key approaches to material culture studies that have appeared in recent critical literature. It will then present a series of case studies on the objects, commodities and things that made tangible the national and global worlds of nineteenth-century literature. Drawing on the research expertise of members of the Centre for Victorian Studies, these case studies will focus on a range of objects and commodities such as jewels, dresses, cotton, carte de visites, magic lantern slides, and meat, exploring their significance within the Victorian period.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to:

  • introduce you to key studies relating to material culture in the Victorian period. Covering key critical approaches such as thing theory, object-oriented ontology, commodity culture, as well as topics such as portability, metonymy, and book as object, and the global circulation of commodities, this module will consider the broad significance of this critical field in order to allow you to apply related ideas to aspects of Victorian literature and culture.
  • combine theory-led and object-led seminars in order to develop your critical and analytic abilities in relation to material culture and literature.
  • consider the relationship between texts and material and cultural contexts
  • investigate the book itself as a material object, and will involve hands-on archival sessions using the vast range of nineteenth century resources in Special Collections and the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum.
  • pose questions such as, How did objects affect the formal and generic strategies of Victorian writers? How do fictional objects acquire meaning in specific texts? What is the bodily and psychological experience of material things? These questions will be addressed through a range of texts and artefacts from the Victorian period alongside theoretical writing on objecthood and thing theory and embodied research methods.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of the relationship between material culture and nineteenth-century literature
  • 2. Evaluate the merits of different theoretical and methodological approaches to material objects within literary criticism
  • 3. Employ some techniques of archival study appropriate to the literature and culture of this period

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Demonstrate an advanced and autonomous ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to your own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history
  • 5. Demonstrate an advanced ability to digest, select, and organise interdisciplinary material and to trace the development of debate across disciplinary boundaries
  • 6. Demonstrate an ability to devise, research, and execute a programme of archival research

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. Research for seminars, essays, demonstrate advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis
  • 9. Through responses to constructive feedback, demonstrate an advanced and intellectually mature ability to reflect upon and strengthen written and other work

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Object Theory
  • Thing Culture
  • The Great Exhibition
  • Books
  • Diamonds
  • Imperial Objects
  • Patchwork
  • Cotton
  • Meat
  • Bodies

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 Study208Reading, research and essay preparation
Guided Independent Study70Seminar preparation (individual)

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay Proposal500 words1-9Oral feedback in tutorial

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
Object Biography252000 words1-9Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Essay755000 words1-9Feedback 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
Object BiographyObject Biography1-9Referral/deferral period
EssayEssay1-9Referral/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. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 50%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Indicative primary reading:

  • Margaret Oliphant, Miss Marjoribanks
  • Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone
  • Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
  • Charles Baudelaire, “The Philosophy of Toys”

Selected Secondary Literature

  • Isobel Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds: Glass Culture and the Imagination 1830-1880 (OUP, 2008)
  • Leah Price, How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain, 2012
  • Jeffrey Auerbach, The Great Exhibition of 1851: A Nation on Display. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1999.
  • Schaffer, Talia. Novel Craft: Victorian Domestic Handicraft & Nineteenth Century Fiction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011
  • Elaine Freedgood, The Ideas in Things, 2006.
  • Deborah Lynne, Women and Personal Property in the Victorian Novel. 2010.
  • Suzanne Daly, The Empire Inside. 2011
  • Andrew Miller, Novels Behind Glass: Commodity Culture and Victorian Narrative, 1995.
  • Thomas Richards, The Commodity Culture of Victorian BritainÃ?�Ã?¢Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Ã?�Ã?¯: Advertising and Spectacle, 1851-1914. Verso, 1991.
  • Jonathon Shears, and Jen Harrison, eds. Literary Bric-à-Brac and the Victorians: From Commodities to Oddities. The Nineteenth Century Series. Farnham, Surrey, EnglandÃ?�Ã?¢Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Ã?�Ã?¯; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013.
  • Asa Briggs, Victorian Things, 1988.
  • Katharina Boehm, eds. Things and Bodies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture. 2012.
  • John Plotz, Portable Property: Victorian Culture on the Move, 2008.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

material culture, Victorian literature, objects, commodities

Credit value30
Module ECTS


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