Victorian Speed – Time Flies When You’re Having FUN!

On Thursday 18th October, the Museum of the History of Science threw open its doors for its first ever ‘late’ – Victorian Speed: The Long History of Fast Living. With six separate activities based on our postdocs’ research interests and a Victorian photo booth to boot, we had a riotous evening of nineteenth century hijinks.

Here, the Diseases of Modern Life team reflect on their individual activities.

Dr. Hosanna Krienke

My “Timing the Victorians” quiz invited guests to try to guess the speed of various aspects of life in the 1800s. Many quiz-takers were amazed by how fast some things were (it took only 9 minutes to send a telegram from London to Bombay!), but were also caught off-guard by the slowness of other aspects of Victorian life (convalescent homes let patients stay by the seaside for a month or more to recover their health). I enjoyed hearing the ways people reasoned their way through the questions, and some even gasped or cheered when they discovered their hunches were correct. In the end, my aim was to help people imagine more concretely what life was like in the 1800s, so I was really pleased when one person reported that the event made her “reevaluate a nostalgic view of the Victorian era.”

Victorian Speed Event at Museum of the History of Science by Ian Wallman

Dr. Hosanna Krienke, in Victorian dress, letting participants know they’re running out of time to answer! Photo: Ian Wallman

Victorian Speed Event at Museum of the History of Science by Ian Wallman

Eager to find out if they are correct! Photo: Ian Wallman

 

Dr. Jean-Michel Johnston

My ‘telegraphic tweeting’ activity introduced visitors to the full experience of sending an ‘instant’ message in the Victorian age. After considering many of the practicalities of sending a telegram, from the limitations of post office opening hours to the relatively high cost of sending a mere 20 words, they were then encouraged to have a go at sending their chosen message to another visitor ‘across the line'(or, rather, table) using one of the replica telegraph apparatuses. It was great to see that people from a wide range of age groups had fun trying out this activity – some of the children who attended were natural ‘Morse coders’, and some of the adults enjoyed trying to bemuse their counterparts across the table by sending messages in foreign languages!

VictorianSpeedEventatMuseumoftheHistoryofSciencebyIanWallman-5793.jpg

Tapping out a Morse message. Photo: Ian Wallman

Victorian Speed Event at Museum of the History of Science by Ian Wallman

Receiving and decoding – the effort is palpable! Photo: Ian Wallman

 

Dr. Alison Moulds

‘Death and Disease Behind the Counter’ introduced visitors to the pressures of retail work in the late nineteenth century. The title was drawn from Thomas Sutherst’s 1884 book about the plight of shop assistants, and I used pie charts to explore the long hours worked by those in retail, drawing on case studies from fiction, periodicals, autobiographies, and polemical writing. People were particularly surprised and aghast to hear about the demands placed on teenaged apprentices and the pressures of the ‘living-in’ system, which blurred the boundaries between work and leisure time. Visitors used blank pie charts and colouring pencils to plot their own average working day, and shared their retail work ‘horror stories’ on our interactive board. There were common themes between then and now, namely the long hours, the expectation to stand rather than sit, and the perennially rude customers. One women told me how, when working in a supermarket, a customer threw broccoli at her after hearing they’d run out of brie! In the feedback, several visitors suggested the activity had prompted them to find a new appreciation of our modern work-life balance.

Victorian Speed Event at Museum of the History of Science by Ian Wallman

Dr. Alison Moulds looks on as participants colour in their own ‘A Day in the Life’ charts by the ‘Retail Horror Stories’ board. Photo: Ian Wallman

VictorianSpeedEventatMuseumoftheHistoryofSciencebyIanWallman-6213.jpg

One member of the public shades in her ‘work time’. Photo: Ian Wallman

 

Dr. Sally Frampton

In the ‘Emergency’ quiz we introduced visitors to the history of first aid, as we got people sorting fact from fiction and past from present by testing them on first aid trivia. The development of the first aid movement was an important aspect to people’s growing awareness of the health risks of modern life in the nineteenth century, as organisations like the St. John Ambulance Association trained up railway workers, miners, police officers and others to deal with the accidents and illnesses that seemed to arise from new technologies and industries. For the game, visitors were given ten statements relating to first aid. They then had to decide whether they related to first aid practices in the past, current day first aid practice…or whether we had made it up! The idea was to get people thinking about how ideas and practices can come in and go out of fashion, and how even the strangest practices from the past were based upon theories that appeared valid at the time. For example, ‘Blowing tobacco smoke into the anus of a semi-conscious person will revive them’ (past) introduced people to the use of tobacco smoke enemas in the nineteenth century for resuscitation, a medical technology which seems completely bizarre now but which had its roots in the belief that quickly administering warmth and stimulation could be effective in to reviving the near dead. The tobacco enema also led to conversations about early attempts by doctors to find effective resuscitation techniques. The statement ‘a snakebite can be treated by sucking the poison out from the wound’ was another one that generated debate. Until relatively recently the practice was recommended in first aid manuals, but it today considered ineffective, and yet most people thought it a ‘present’ day practice, because it is still seen in TV and films. This led to discussion about how even when new medical evidence proves a medical idea is not right, the idea can linger on in wider culture.

Visitors enjoyed learning weird and wonderful facts about first aid and emergency medicine and the game proved a good way to get people thinking about first aid and to need to keep up-to-date with the current advice about what to do in an emergency!

Victorian Speed Event at Museum of the History of Science by Ian Wallman

Our resident Victorian nurse, Dr. Sally Frampton, administers advice to players. Photo: Ian Wallman

VictorianSpeedEventatMuseumoftheHistoryofSciencebyIanWallman-5626.jpg

Who knew Victorian First Aid could be so fun?! (We had a hunch). Photo: Ian Wallman

 

Dr. Emilie Taylor-Brown

My exhibition, ‘Gastric Time’ started with a story. It was the story of Alexis St Martin, a Canadian man who was shot in the abdomen in 1822, which left him with a hole in his stomach through which the workings of digestion were made visible! People were intrigued and disgusted in equal measure as I recounted how American army surgeon William Beaumont carried out a series of experiments on St Martin which involved dipping bits of food into his stomach on a silk string and timing how long they took to break down! The language of ‘digestibility’ that was produced from the experiments led to a new way of thinking about food: in terms of time. After discussing how Victorian meals and dietetic rules differed from their modern experiences, they were keen to put their own hands in my oversized woollen stomach to choose their meals and try to beat the clock-time dice. If they succeeding in “digesting” 5 meals within 24 hours—symbolised by a giant steam-punk clock face—they were rewarded with a “good digestion” sticker, if not they were diagnosed with chronic indigestion! People enjoyed thinking about food in relation to broader ideas about standardising and controlling bodily processes and were not too shy to sit on our Victorian commode! My advertisement for a “rocking horse” cure for indigestion gave one man a new outlook on the French phrase “aller à la selle” (to have a bowel movement), while the exhibition as a whole purportedly changed many attitudes to dietary choices and even inspired a new MPhil project!

VictorianSpeedEventatMuseumoftheHistoryofSciencebyIanWallman-5822.jpg

Dr. Emilie Taylor-Brown engaging her audience. Photo: Ian Wallman

VictorianSpeedEventatMuseumoftheHistoryofSciencebyIanWallman-5869.jpg

Happy game players – some already wearing stomach stickers! Photo: Ian Wallman

 

Dr. Sarah Green

‘Clusters of hard wart-like growths around anus, causing considerable discomfort’. This was the kind of symptom that those visiting the Victorian Sexual Diseases Tombola were (hopefully) surprised to be presented with. And things didn’t get much better from there. In an age without antibiotics, chances of recovery from syphilis, gonorrhoea, and a whole host of other nasties were slim. By dipping into the tombola drum, visitors had assigned to them a variety of treatments that were at best useless, and at worst downright painful. Fancy a urethral cauterization? A spiked ring to wear round the penis at night? A washing out of the intimate parts with champagne? No, me neither. And that, as visitors came to realize, was the slow, tedious and repetitive nature of Victorian sexual disease treatment. As one visitor commented, ‘I’m glad I got my STI in 2018!’

Victorian Speed Event at Museum of the History of Science by Ian Wallman

Dr. Sarah Green explains how the Sexual Health Tombola works. Pick a card, any card… Photo: Ian Wallman

VictorianSpeedEventatMuseumoftheHistoryofSciencebyIanWallman-6150.jpg

One of the more horrifying treatments for problems of a sexual nature. Photo: Ian Wallman

 

We also had an extremely popular Victorian photo booth, enthusiastically run by Decadent Times. (We may have got in on the action ourselves at the end of the evening…).

VictorianSpeedEventatMuseumoftheHistoryofSciencebyIanWallman-5882.jpg

They’ve got props at the ready and poses sorted… Photo: Ian Wallman

VictorianSpeedEventatMuseumoftheHistoryofSciencebyIanWallman-5889 (1).jpg

…e voilà! Photo printed (a bit more instantaneously than in Victorian times). Photo: Ian Wallman

 

None of this would have been possible without a collaboration with colleagues at the Museum of the History of Science, especially Robyn Haggard: thank you for lending us your space to us – it formed the perfect backdrop for our research! For our Victorian get-up, we kindly thank the Oxfordshire Drama Wardrobe, and for our wonderful props, The Prop Factory

Most of all, thank you to our photographer, Ian Wallman, for capturing all the different facets of #VictorianSpeed so beautifully!

Thank you to everyone who came

or, in Morse Code,

– …. .- -. -.- / -.– — ..- / – — / . …- . .-. -.– — -. . / .– …. — / -.-. .- — .

 

Victorian Speed Event at Museum of the History of Science by Ian Wallman

PS. I got caught taking twitter photos by our fabulous photographer, Ian Wallman…

Advertisements

On the Subject of Speed… Thomas Hardy

TH statue front300

Thomas Hardy in statue form, presiding over the Top O’ Town, Dorchester. Photo: C. Charlwood

 

Born in 1840 in rural Dorset but writing up until his death in 1928, English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy witnessed dramatic social, scientific and technological changes. Though perhaps not the obvious place to look for evidence of Victorian speed, Hardy’s poetry indicates his perception that the pace of modern life had increased drastically – and that he was out of joint, the ‘time-torn man’ of his poem ‘A Broken Appointment’.

In the poem ‘Places’ – from the ‘Poems of 1912-13’, written on the sudden death of his first wife, Emma – Hardy ends by noting that ‘one there is’ whose ‘mind calls back’ past experiences, and plays the past off against the present by claiming that past occurrences have

a savour that scenes in being lack,

And a presence more than the actual brings;

[…] to-day is beneaped and stale,

              And its urgent clack

              But a vapid tale.

from ‘Places’ (1913)

‘Scenes in being’ are robbed of meaning and depth here, with only the past offering the rich experience for the senses that ‘savour’ indicates. Hardy deliberately uses the archaic ‘beneaped’ to characterise ‘to-day’, satirising modernity’s progress with an image of a ship left aground by the tide: the modern is caught in an old-fashioned linguistic predicament. ‘To-day’ is sonically characterised by an ‘urgent clack’, a mechanised noise which noticeably rhymes with ‘lack’, and whose consonant clusters sound ugly and disrupt the supposed enjambment.

The very early poem ‘She, to Him III’, from 1866, hears the speaker feeling ‘Despised by souls of Now, who would disjoint | The mind from memory, making Life all aim’. Forty-seven years before Hardy wrote ‘Places’, the present (here anthropomorphised into ‘Now’) is already ‘urgent’, insistent in its the alliteration on ‘all aim’. While the enjambment preserves the continuity with ‘memory’ and the past, the line break visually enacts the ‘disjoint[ure]’ the speaker feels.

The forward progress inherent in ‘all aim’ is mirrored at the end of Hardy’s poem ‘Old Furniture’, when, after stanzas of reminiscing about ancestors who’d previously handled these objects, the speaker berates himself with

Well, well. It is best to be up and doing,

              The world has no use for one to-day

Who eyes things thus – no aim pursuing!

from ‘Old Furniture’

‘To-day’ is again revealed as a time which does not allow for stationary contemplation, where the mind is busy but the body inactive. Despite the jaunty exclamation, the gross instrumentality of society is glimpsed in its faux horror at ‘one’ who is currently ‘no aim pursuing’. Citizens are of ‘use’ only when engaged in ‘doing’ something.

While ‘doing’ in part fits the rhyme scheme, it also bears on modern notions of an overworked, busy life. There’s been an increased uptake of mindfulness, a therapeutic practice which brings one’s attention back to the present moment. Guided mindfulness meditation explicitly tries to bring people back to a state of simply being, rather than the ‘doing’ that defines our waking hours – and that Hardy felt under pressure to socially perform. The need for mindfulness, and the popularity of mindfulness apps such as Headspace, shows that – for us as for the Victorians – one of the diseases of modern life is the disease of always doing, with its related problems of stress, anxiety and sleeplessness. Learning to do, and feeling under pressure constantly to be productive, leaves us struggling to be in the moment, be human, and ultimately be happy. That is why I’ve always found the end of ‘Old Furniture’ so devastating: the speaker turns from his individual, helpful reflections, back to those actions deemed socially appropriate.

However, if you’re thinking of writing Hardy off as an old stick-in-the-mud who grumbled in the face of modernity, it’s not so simple. Inviting Edmund Gosse down to Dorchester on 18th August 1886, he promises to show him ‘one or two curious places in the neighbourhood recently opened up by the railway’, allowing for the advantages of the railway network in ‘open[ing] up’ previously inaccessible terrain. Hardy recognises the convenience of the trains, even if they didn’t have the same aesthetic qualities as former modes of transport:

I fear that the old type of country waggon, curved & painted on the front & back with conventional flowers, tendrils, &.c, has nearly disappeared, if not quite. A person might find a decrepit one by penetrating into the recesses of the country, away from railways.

Letter to Edward Hudson, April 1921

The technology of the train pushed local, homelier features into obscure countryside according to Hardy’s estimate, and even the most intrepid will still only find ‘decrepit’, rather than working, wagons. Only ‘away from railways’ can one encounter ‘the old’.

Hardy also travelled to London to see the newly-opened London Underground system and reported by letter to his sister on 19th February 1863 that ‘I tried the Underground Railway one day – Everything is excellently arranged’. As a claustrophobe and crowd-fearer, I can only guess that the Underground was a much more palatable experience in those days!

Society’s speeding up had its advantages and disadvantages. While Hardy was sensitive to behavioural changes – when his pace and practice of considered thought was deemed outmoded and unproductive – he more than conceded the benefits of the technological changes which made travel quicker and no doubt more comfortable.

 

Please comment to tell us where you have noticed speed changes in Victorian fiction, non-fiction and poetry!

TH statue back

The Hardy statue, letting the world get on as he sits in the sun. Photo: C. Charlwood

Sneak Preview of Victorian Speed!

VictorianSpeedBanner2On the evening of Thursday 18th October, the Museum of the History of Science will be throwing open its doors for a special event – Victorian Speed: The Long History of Fast Living. Enter an entertaining world of games, interactive exhibits, and short talks as our own Diseases of Modern Life researchers introduce you to the new technologies and sometimes bizarre medical treatments of the Victorian age.

This is a free, ticketed drop-in event. There are two time slots for the event to help reduce crowding. These run 6-7.30pm or 7.30-9pm. We recommend you pre-book ticket. It may be possible to turn up on the night if space allows. Book your place here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/victorian-speed-the-long-history-of-fast-living-registration-49259062181 and join in the anticipation on our Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/341302476615098/

Below are tasters of the activities that await!

Timing the Victorians, with Dr. Hosanna Krienke: Victorians thought their world had sped up, but how fast were they going? This trivia game introduces Victorian timescales: both the shockingly fast and the surprisingly slow.

Apparatus small

Apparatus for Stimulating Nerves. Credit: Wellcome Collection CC BY

Emergency! with Dr. Sally Frampton: With industrialisation, new technologies and a rapid pace of life came accidents. Lots of them. Try your hand at first aid trivia. In this game, you will encounter strange methods of first-aid. Your task will be to sort out fact from fiction, as well as historical techniques from today’s best methods.

Death and Disease Behind the Counter, with Dr. Alison Moulds: Long hours and living-in meant that Victorian retail work was associated with ill-health and exhaustion; come explore the parallels between the plight of shop assistants then and now and share your own horror stories of working on the shop floor.

Murder

Credit: Wellcome Collection CC BY

Telegraphic Tempo: High-Speed Communication in the 19th Century?, with Dr. Jean-Michel Johnston: The Victorians believed the electric telegraph would transform their lives–for better and for worse. Instant messaging could bring the world closer together, but would it also unnecessarily accelerate life? Discover the reality of high-speed communication in the nineteenth century by trying out some telegraphic tweeting!

Digesting the Modern World, with Dr. Emilie Taylor-Brown: Vegan, vegetarian, low carb, no dairy, sugar-free, paleo, clean eating, and the 5:2… we live in a world obsessed with diet, but we have the Victorians to thank for our interest in digestion. From how long it took to digest a meal, to what time one should eat supper, to when to use the loo…come and learn about how the Victorians experienced “gastric time”!

alexisstmartin

Reconstruction of Alexis St. Martin, Medical Museion, Copenhagen. Credit: Dr. Emilie Taylor-Brown

The Slow Road to Nowhere: Victorian Sexual Diseases Tombola, with Dr. Sarah Green: So your fast modern living has landed you with some worrying symptoms down below – what are your options? Enter the surprisingly slow, tedious and painful world of Victorian VD treatment with our sexual health tombola.

There will also be a photo booth provided by the wonderful Decadent Times (https://www.decadenttimes.com/photobooth), so that you can share your new-found historical look as swiftly as social media allows you to! #VictorianSpeed

And don’t forget to use your map to find objects related to the different activities placed around the museum!

If you would like to be added to the Museum of the History of Science’s mailing list, please visit http://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk/join/e-newsletter/

We look forward to welcoming you to Victorian Speed – in full period dress, no less!

181010_009.jpg

The Museum of the History of Science’s Education Officer in Victorian garb

Science, Medicine and Culture in the Nineteenth Century Seminars in Michaelmas Term 2018

Image

Tuesday 23 October 2018 (Week 3)

 Dr Lauren Weiss and Prof Kirstie Blair, University of Strathclyde

 Science and the Mutual Improvement Society

Victorian Britain had hundreds, if not thousands, of societies devoted to the cause of self-improvement, many populated by aspiring working-class men (and, later in the century, women). Scientific discussion and debate was very important to these associations. This talk will focus on the little-known archive of their meetings records and the magazines that they produced, showing that these give us significant insight into how, why, and when societies discussed key scientific debates and development, and the ways in which scientific education was perceived as vital to the cause of mutual improvement.

This talk is delivered by Dr Lauren Weiss, whose PhD and postdoctoral research has focused on literary societies and mutual improvement magazines, and Prof Kirstie Blair, whose current research is focused on Scottish and Northern working-class literature and culture.

5.30—7.00, Seminar Room 3, St Anne’s College

 

Wednesday 7 November 2018 (Week 5)

Dr Imogen Goold, University of Oxford and Dr Catherine Kelly, University of Bristol

Psychiatric Injury and the Hysterical Woman

In this paper, we examine the development of the English courts’ approach to negligently-inflicted psychiatric injury claims from an historical perspective, first tracing the development of the English court’s approach to psychiatric injury claims. We then offer an overview of how mental injury has been understood over the past two centuries, and the notion of the hysterical woman within this framework. We posit the idea that the current law can be best understood as a sympathetic reaction to the notion of the ‘hysterical woman’. We argue that this approach can both explain the early resistance to recognising such claims, but also the enthusiasm for compensation in others. We further argue that the rather confused and conflicting approaches in English law can be understood as a result of the lack of a clearly developed normative basis for compensation. This failure, we suggest, has arisen as a result of the reactive nature of the way in which the law has developed, which has undermined the courts’ development of a more ethically coherent and reasoned approach. We argue that an understanding of the background to the current law can aid in improving the coherency of this area of law in the future.

5.30—7.00, Seminar Room 3, St Anne’s College

 

Tuesday 20 November 2018 (Week 7)

Dr Megan Coyer, University of Glasgow

Literature and Medicine in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Press: The Literary Doctor in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine

In the early nineteenth century, Edinburgh was the leading centre of medical education and research in Britain. It also laid claim to a thriving periodical culture. This paper explores the relationship between the medical culture of Romantic-era Scotland and the periodical press by examining the work of two key medically-trained contributors to Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, the most influential and innovative literary periodical of the era. I argue that the Romantic periodical press cultivated innovative ideologies, discourses, and literary forms that both reflected and shaped medical culture in the nineteenth century. In the case of Blackwood’s, the magazine’s distinctive Romantic ideology and experimental form enabled the development of an overtly ‘literary’ and humanistic popular medical culture, which participated in a wider critique of liberal Whig ideology in post-Enlightenment Scotland. The construction of the surgeon, sentimental poet, and prolific Blackwoodian contributor, David Macbeth Moir (1798–1851), as a literary surgeon within the magazine is briefly examined. Samuel Warren’s seminal series, Passages from the Diary of a Late Physician (1830–37), is then read in its vexed original publishing context – the ideologically charged popular periodical press – in terms of its inception and reception, as well as its initiation of a new genre of popular medical writing. The paper concludes by reflecting upon the need to further situate the writings and reception of nineteenth-century literary doctors in relation to specific cultural and textual contexts to unpack both the history of medical humanism and the broader relationship between medical and literary cultures during this period.

5.30—7.00, Seminar Room 3, St Anne’s College

 

Drinks will be served after each seminar. All welcome, no booking required.

Image Credit: Wellcome Collection

Resuscitation, Reanimation and the Modern World

Oct 5

The conference will be held at Maison Française d’Oxford (2-10 Norham Road, OX2 6SE) on Friday 5th October (1pm-6pm) and Saturday 6th October (9.30am-4pm).

The conference seeks to explore the social, cultural, political, and medical aspects of reanimation and resuscitation from the early modern period to the present. From the emergence of societies ‘for the recovery of persons apparently drowned’ across Europe to the setting up of first-aid medical services, the subject of resuscitation has social and medical significance. Changing views about the obligation to save lives may also be indicative of a shift regarding the nature of death and the value of human life, involving both an increasingly secularized conception of the possibility of resurrection (famously explored in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, 1818), and the development of a society characterized by its understanding and management of risk.

‘Resuscitation, Reanimation and the Modern World’ will consider how these phenomena appeared as key concerns of the Enlightenment – initially as miraculous moments, then as displays of medical prowess and manifestations of civic responsibility. The aim of the meeting is to explore how these ideas and practices have developed through time in literary, popular, and medical narratives, as new technologies both ‘medicalised’ resuscitation and extended its practice beyond the medical arena. As a result, we aim to develop new insights, not only into the development and dissemination of medical knowledge but also into broader cultural issues such as citizenship and civic duty, the perception and management of risk, and changing notions of what it means to be human.

More information and the conference programme are available at:

http://www.mfo.cnrs.fr/fr/calendar/resuscitation-reanimation-and-the-modern-world/

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/workshop-resuscitation-reanimation-and-the-modern-world-tickets-50166729037

The conference is free to attend, with all refreshments provided, but please register your attendance via eventbrite (above). The venue is wheelchair accessible.

Resuscitation, Reanimation and the Modern World is organized by Marie Thébaud-Sorger (CNRS/Maison Française d’Oxford) and Jennifer Wallis (Imperial College London). We are grateful for the support of the British Society for the History of Science (BSHS), the Diseases of Modern Life project and the Faculty of History at the University of Oxford, the Maison Française d’Oxford (MFO), the Society for the Social History of Medicine (SSHM), and the Royal Historical Society (RHS).