Buildings have loomed large in the analysis or narrative of some historians and commentators on the Victorian era, as the quotation above indicates. This module uses some key buildings, complexes, and memorial sites of the nineteenth-century as a way of exploring important aspects of the social, political and cultural history of the period: examining how their creation, design or use of these structures and places can be related to key Victorian concerns, values or anxieties. It considers the building, design and iconography, and use of these sites. It draws on architectural history, the history of design, urban history and the emergent history of spaces. It is intended to allow students, familiar from other modules in the degree programme with textual, oral and audio-visual sources, to consider evidence provided by the built environment.
Each week focuses on a particular site: either a specific case study (e.g., the Crystal Palace constructed for the Great Exhibition) or a type of building (such as seaside piers). The module uses a variety of visual sources and contemporary printed texts to interpret the site, and then contextualises it within wider social, cultural and political history. The sites or buildings are seen as helping to constitute contemporary and later understanding of Victorian culture, rather than as merely unproblematic or simple ‘expressions’ of Victorian culture. The module will also explore some of the Victoria-era survivals here in Plymouth: these might include the Guildhall (patched up after the Second World War), the Duke of Cornwall Hotel, and the Palace Theatre, and Victorian schools, churches and banks.