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Unit information: Cacophonous City, Silent Lives: Life in Victorian London in 2016/17

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Unit name Cacophonous City, Silent Lives: Life in Victorian London
Unit code HIST30049
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. John Lyons
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Described by James Elmes in 1827 as the “Rome of modern history”, nineteenth-century London was a city of astounding wonders and appalling horrors, of opulent wealth and degrading poverty. The aim of this unit is to investigate one group at risk of deprivation: the approximately 2000 deaf people of London, during a pivotal period of their history, 1840-1880. Students will examine the significant problems but also the benefits created by city life during this period; for example, the dangers of pollution, disease, and the city’s slums, but also significant developments in governance, infrastructure, social research and philanthropy.

Situated at the centre of a global empire, the capital grew large on industrialisation and trade, drawing in workers from around the British Isles and from the continents beyond. Understood as cut off from humanity by their lack of hearing and seen as a mission field in a colonial-mode by many, the interaction between a moneyed class, the Christian churches, and the deaf themselves led to the creation of a number of ‘deaf spaces’ in the period. The unit’s focus will be on reconstructing the formation, operation, and destruction of these spaces.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

1) differentiate between historians' interpretations of the deaf community of Victorian London

2) synthesise and evaluate primary sources to build wider arguments about the nature and experience of this community

3) critically assess existing historical interpretation and independently challenge them

4) demonstrate advanced writing skills

Teaching details

One 2 hour seminar per week.

Assessment Details

One 3500 word essay (50%) and one 2 hour exam (50%). Both assessments will assess ILOs 1-4

Reading and References

M. Brodie, The politics of the poor: The East End of London, 1885-1914 (Clarendon ,2004)

G. Cantor, Religion and the Great Exhibition of 1851 (Oxford University Press, 2011)

J. Esmail, Reading Victorian Deafness: Signs and Sounds in Victorian Literature and Cuture (Ohio University Press, 2013)

J. Marriott, Other Empire: Metropolis, India, and Progress in the Colonial Imagination (Manchester University Press, 2003)

L. Picard, Victorian London: The Life of a City, 1840-1870 (Phoenix, 2006)

E. Ross, Slum Travellers: Ladies and London Poverty, 1860-1920 (University of California Press, 2007)