Alan’s most recent post got me wondering how to get my students to engage with Victorian and twentieth-century media in a way that helps them see a medium as new, cutting edge, the Google glasses of its time (or indeed, perhaps more exciting than Google glasses. The glasses seem, by and large, to be met with a world weariness: “Another gadget? They look so terribly uncool”). Alan, quite rightly, warns against being sucked in by nineteenth-century newspapers’ celebratory accounts of then-new media. That said, while I would Continue reading
Last weekend I flew to DC to see the major exhibit, Pre-Raphaelities: Victorian Art and Design. DC is the only North American city where the exhibit is showing (having started in London, it next moves on to Moscow and Tokyo) so I felt really lucky to have family nearby, which made it easier to go.
I’d seen some of the paintings before at the Tate, and at the Holman Hunt exhibit a few years ago, which came to Toronto. But this exhibit was really marvelous in terms of the sheer number of paintings from many different galleries, some of which I may never have a chance to see again. Working in disability studies, I was especially happy to see Millais’s The Blind Girl (1856), which is at Birmingham.
I’m teaching a course in Victorian culture this summer, and planning to open the class with a chapter from Charles Babbage’s Ninth Bridgewater Treatise (on “Natural Theology”). His mathematical speculations in this text seem to me perfectly representative of the anxious and industrious Victorian desire to apprehend every incident and accident of the physical world. In his chapter “On the Permanent Impression of our Words and Actions on the Globe we Inhabit,” Babbage theorizes that an exhaustive and precise archive of past events would give us an exact vision of our future (to the extent that the latter unfolds as the accumulated consequence of the former). Continue reading
Reprieve! I’ve been steeped in regret at not having posted a review of Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage when it was on at the AGO over the summer. My impressions have liquefied and dribbled off somewhere in the intervening months. Let me offer the Elizabeth Siegel’s curatorial lecture in their stead. In July I would have said that Victorian ephemera was ideal for the summer months, but now that patio season is over, I’m more inclined than ever to get out my pinking sheers in solidarity with Siegel’s subjects.
I’ve spent the last week mulling over how mark-up languages’ form and function encode knowledge into a text – but have been sidetracked by an amusing site devoted to nineteenth-century mustaches. Drawn from the University of Kentucky archives, these are almost exclusively American mustaches. I’ve been trying to divine each sitter’s nationality by reading his whiskers (John Wilkes Booth from the May 25th post features a distinctly Clemensesque soup strainer). Which makes me wonder, in keeping with my reading on mark-up languages, do Victorian mustaches have a function, symbolic or otherwise, or are they pure form?
I’m feeling relieved – I’ve reached my whimsy quota for the week, and it’s only Wednesday.
I bought the e-reader before taking a trip to visit family and it was fabulous to travel with–the screen is almost easier to read than a book, and I was able to carry many “books” with me. As a scholar who works on a lot of non-canonical novels, I’m grateful for easy to access to authors (like Dinah Mulock Craik and Charlotte Yonge) whose complete works aren’t so easy to find. My copies of Craik’s or Yonge’s or even Charles Kingsley’s novels are often more than 100 years old, and needless to say they don’t travel well!
I wonder, in fact, how much of the reason for the canon is material rather than about “quality”–only so many Victorian novels are in print at any given time, which limits what we can read and think about to some extent. I think that projects like Google books and devices like e-readers are doing a great thing in making these books more democratically available. It can only add to the richness and diversity of scholarship in Victorian studies to have this kind of access. I wonder if we will see a renaissance in work on lesser-known novels as this access increases. Or, if more ordinary people will start reading more Victorian novels simply because they’re out of copyright and free on the web.
I’ve read a lot of (usually print) articles worried about the demise of the book with the advent of the Kindle. I don’t see these two things as being in conflict. I have both a shelf full of beautiful old books which certainly have an aesthetic and cultural value that the e-reader doesn’t, and an e-reader to take with me when I don’t want to damage those beautiful books.
Another benefit to the e-reader is environmental–I have yet to start reading articles on my e-reader, but it is pdf-compatible and I could see this really cutting down on my printing. There’s even a disability studies angle to this book technology–the option of increasing the font-size makes the technology accessible to the visually impaired, and it’s easier for people with difficulty with fine motor skills to press a button than to turn a page.
The biggest detraction I’ve found so far in reading Google books on my e-reader is that the software they use to decode the fonts and convert it to e-pub format produces some junk characters. This would be a problem if I was doing a close-reading of one of the novels or quoting from it, and for that I would switch to my print editions. But for an initial reading of a novel it’s really not a problem.
Do any of you have a Kindle or other reading device? What has your experience been?
p.s. I personally decided on a Sony because it has a touch screen that allows me to scribble notes on the text and is compatible with Google books, and it didn’t hurt that it was on sale for $150 and red!–but really this could all apply to any device on the market.
Kristan Tetens at The Victorian Peeper points us to an interesting online collection of Victorian Freak show posters at the British Library’s website. Noting the importance of “titillating publicity” to the success of these shows, the BL website emphasizes how the invariably “exaggerated and stylised illustrations” of the posters graphically framed and pathologized the performers’ physical difference. Continue reading
For years I’ve felt right at home in the nesting colony that is Victorian Studies. As Victorian Studies expanded in the last decade to include history along side literary criticism, I’ve snuggled in and lined my Victorian Studies nest with novels, popular science treatises, artificial limb catalogues, late-century films, and body building manuals. Although visual culture is central to Victorian Studies, it was only at the joint VSAWC and VISAWUS conference in October that I started to think about the art historians that might be nesting in the same Victorian Studies colonies.
This year’s joint Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada Continue reading
Fiona’s last post left me musing about Francis Galton’s composite photography. Galton proposed the process as a simple method, inspired by Herbert Spencer, for achieving a photographic average. In an article, “Composite Portraits, Made by Combining Those of Many Different Persons into a Single Resultant Figure,” Galton describes a method for exposing a photographic plate to several photographs, each containing the image of a face. The result, he suggested, “represents no man in particular, but portrays an imaginary figure possessing the average features of any given group of men” (132-133). He suggests, however, that his readers might be able recognize someone who is likely to commit a crime, based on that person’s resemblance to the composite photograph. Continue reading
The Ontario Art Gallery’s new curatorial practices are challenging to those of us who’ve had a sensible middle school education in art history. Years of studying visual culture has helped me silence my internal philistine, but when I am daunted, thrilled, or over-stimulated by the AGO’s eclectic thematic groupings, I can hear the voice of my ten year-old self asking why we can’t just look at the works of art in chronological order. I suspect William Holman Hunt would understand the Gallery’s novel curatorial vision and would disapprove of my inner philistine, since neither Hunt’s paintings nor the AGO’s exhibit, Sin and Salvation: Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision, are bound by chronological dogmatism. Continue reading