ENMLAC-Literature and Culture in the 1850s

Module Provider: English Literature
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2019/0

Module Convenor: Prof Gail Marshall

Email: g.marshall@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

Summary module description:

This module examines the literary, cultural, political, scientific and technological innovations of the decade in order to explore the relations between these events, their effects on each other, and the modes of representation they generated. We will study a broad range of texts, including fiction, poetry, drama, essays, scientific works, newspaper articles, and material from the University’s Special Collections. Students will also be introduced to the practice and protocols of archival research.


The aims of this module are to introduce students to the range and complexity of literary and cultural life in Britain in the 1850s, and to investigate the relations between literary texts and contemporary events.

Assessable learning outcomes:

By the end of the module it is expected that the student will be able to:

  • Identify and analyse the relations between key developments of the 1850s

  • Assess writers’ responses to the period’s literary, cultural, political, scientific and technological innovations, and specifically to identify those innovations’ impact on literary forms and content

  • Discuss changes in the material conditions of the production and consumption of literary texts in the 1850s

  • Conduct and demonstrate independent thought and research in the selection and critical analysis of texts

  • Undertake bibliographic research and analysis of both primary and secondary material

Additional outcomes:

The module will encourage students to develop their oral communication skills through discussions in seminars, to think critically both within and across disciplines, and to interrogate their own assumptions and arguments, as well as those of others including their peers and seminar-leader.

Outline content:

This course will make use of databases, archives, and print materials to examine some of the key events and developments of the decade, alongside its literature. Indicative texts and events include: the Crimean War and Indian uprising; Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing; George Eliot’s essays and fiction; popular adaptations of Shakespeare and Shakespeare burlesques; scientific writings by Charles Darwin and his contemporaries; fiction and journalism by Charles Dickens; novels by poetry by Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, and Edward Fitzgerald; Britain’s global and industrial identity and interventions; fiction by Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell; and contemporary newspapers. Seminars will be organised thematically, and cover a variety of texts and genres each week.

Global context:

The module will inevitably look at the ways in which Britain operated in a global context during the 1850s, how its ‘Empire’ was consolidated during that period, but also how relations with other European countries informed Britain’s cultural, political, and economic life.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

The module consists of ten weekly seminars, each two hours long. Each seminar will involve discussion of texts or special material set and prepared in advance. Some seminars will be taught in the library using material from the archives and rare book collections. The convenor will be available for consultation on a one-to-one basis to discuss students’ work, assessment plans, and the progress of the module as a whole.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Tutorials 22
Guided independent study: 178
Total hours by term 200
Total hours for module 200

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 90
Set exercise 10

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Students must produce a 4000-word piece of written work on a topic of their own choice, in which they will respond to and develop upon an aspect of the material covered in seminars. The specific title will be determined by the student in consultation with the module convenor. In addition, students will also complete a shorter piece of assessed work (10 credits) of a bibliographical nature. This will be set centrally by the module convenor and will be designed to help students to adapt to the demands of primary research and to introduce them to the range of resources available in Reading to students of Victorian literature and culture.

Formative assessment methods:

Students will be given the opportunity to submit a formative essay partway through the term in which the module is taught.

Penalties for late submission:
Penalties for late submission on this module are in accordance with the University policy. Please refer to page 5 of the Postgraduate Guide to Assessment for further information: http://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/exams/student/exa-guidePG.aspx

Assessment requirements for a pass:


Reassessment arrangements:

Re-submission of coursework

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

Last updated: 10 April 2019


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