Pre-Printed Diaries and Almanacs: An Aid to Managing the Diseases of Modern Life?

Hannah Wills, our new Research Assistant, introduces her work on Victorian diaries.  

In the Victorian period, individuals complained of the quickening pace of life, of a greater ‘velocity in thought and action’ than had ever been experienced before.[1] I’m interested in exploring the practical tools that were available to manage this phenomenon, in terms of personal information management on paper. One available solution was the pre-printed diary or planner, marketed as a useful receptacle for everything from financial transactions to social engagements, from the day’s weather to daily food intake. An advert in the Spectator for 23 December 1848 described two such commercial publications, Letts’s Diary, or Bills-Due Book, and Letts’s Indispensable Almanack, both produced by the highly successful Letts stationary company, founded in 1796 by John Letts. As the advert for Letts’s almanac promised, such products were invaluable in ‘enabling Everybody to secure to himself a faithful Record of the Past, the Present, and the Future’.

The origins of British pre-printed diaries can be traced back to mid-eighteenth-century almanacs and pocket diaries of a similar nature. These diaries and almanacs had a range of contents, including selections of useful reference information, usually at the front, including weights and measures, conversion charts and notable public holidays, alongside entertaining anecdotes, brain-teasing puzzles and dated blank spaces for the writing of diary entries. The nineteenth century saw an explosion in the number of printed diaries available for purchase, containing much of the same content.[2] One edition of Letts’s diary, published for the year 1874, began with a reference section that included the dates of the law and university terms, a list of the names and ages of the sovereigns of Europe and a table for calculating the interest on sums of money at different percentages. The rest of the diary was arranged with blank spaces for the insertion of dated diary entries, with two days set out per page.[3]

(Advert for Letts’s diaries from The Lancet, 7 Jan. 1871, Advertiser. Image credit: Google Books)

Pre-printed diaries and almanacs were marketed at a variety of individuals and professions in the nineteenth century. In a catalogue of their works for the year 1856, Letts, Son & Co. described a range of published editions of their popular diary. These included pocket versions, described as being of use to ‘Physicians’ and ‘Tourists’, as well as cheaper editions, more suited to ‘Mechanics, Warehousemen, &c’. Alongside those suited to particular professions, versions were also advertised ‘For Private Use, of Noblemen, Gentlemen, and Ladies’. Each edition was numbered, with different editions containing different reference information and a different arrangement of days printed on each page. A ‘new form for the pocket’, produced by Letts and marketed specifically at physicians, contained sections for recording daily appointments, births and vaccinations.

(The arrangement of the diary pages varied in different editions of the diary, as advertised in Letts’s catalogue. A Catalogue of Other Works, Published, Sold, or Manufactured by Letts, Son & Co. 1855. Image credit: Google Books)

Letts’s advertising positioned its products as practical aids for the management of time, as one solution to the problem of an increase in the pace of modern life. Musing on the general benefits of keeping a diary, Letts’s catalogue suggested to all diarists that ‘Before you lie down to sleep, or before you leave your dressing room in the morning… Read over the Entries of the Past Day to provide against any omission, and then those of to morrow (if there be any) to arrange your time in the most advantageous manner’.

Within the diaries themselves, one finds allusions to other modern ailments, including worry and mental strain. In addition to the reference sections at the beginning, and the middle pages used for recording daily activities, some diaries and planners contained adverts for other products. Letts’s number 42 diary for the year 1874 featured several full pages of adverts, some for items associated with stationary and the act of writing, including ‘Letts’s Patent Perpetual Inkstand’, Joseph Gillott’s ‘celebrated Steel Pens’, and a range of leather portmanteaus, expanding bags and cases, sold by John Pound & Co. Several medical adverts were also featured, including one for ‘Lamplough’s Pyretic Saline’, a patent medicine that promised to cure ‘Nervous Headache in a few minutes’. Just below was an advert for F. Walters & Co., ‘Manufacturers of Abdominal Supports For Ladies before and after Confinement’, and a range of ‘Artificial Legs, Arms, and Eyes’.

In the nineteenth century, patent medicines were often advertised in planners and almanacs. Many patent medicine companies designed and produced their own yearly planners, distributed for free, that featured adverts for their products alongside a reference calendar for the year.[4] It is possible that commercial stationers and patent medicine companies saw a connection between the desire to record one’s daily activities and engagements, and the desire to manage one’s health. It is striking that printed diaries and almanacs, tools for managing the pace of Victorian life, were also used to advertise medical products, some of which were aimed at combatting the diseases of modern life.


[1] James Crichton Browne, ‘The History and Progress of Psychological Medicine: An Inaugural Address’. Royal Medicine Society, Edinburgh, 1860. p. 9.

[2] Rebecca Steinitz, “Social Spaces for the Self: Organising Experience in the Nineteenth-Century British Printed Diary.” a/b: Auto/Biography Studies 16, no. 2 (2001): 161-74.  Hazel Tubman, “The First Pre-Printed Diaries: Origins, Development and Uses of an Information Genre, 1700-1850.” PhD thesis, University of Oxford, 2016.

[3] Letts’s Diary or Bills Due Book, and an Almanack for 1874. London: Letts, Son & Co., 1873.

[4] Louise Hill Curth, “Medical Advertising in the Popular Press: Almanacs and the Growth of Proprietary Medicines.” Pharmacy in History 50, no. 1 (2008): 3-16.

Podcast: #Ruskin200 – Ruskin, Science and the Environment

You can listen to our #Ruskin200 podcast here. As well as telling you more about what’s in store at our 8th February conference and lecture, it also offers three scholars reflecting on how Ruskin has shaped their work.

 

  • Prof John Holmes (University of Birmingham) talks about Ruskin and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History

“Perhaps Ruskin holds something for us now that perhaps twenty years ago we were less aware that he would hold for us”

 

  • Dr Fraser Riddell (Trinity College, University of Oxford) explains how Vernon Lee responded to Ruskin’s ideas

“Lee identifies in Ruskin three modes of transformation in how we live”

 

  • Prof Fiona Stafford (Somerville College, University of Oxford) considers the importance of trees to Ruskin throughout his life

“[…] the contemporary emphasis on economics over other types of value [Ruskin] would have been very troubled by”

Science, Medicine and Culture in the Nineteenth Century Seminars in Hilary Term 2019

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Tuesday 29 January 2019 (Week 3)

Prof Anne-Julia Zwierlein, University of Regensburg

Monstrous Voices: (Female) Speaking Automata, Mind Science and Mass Mediation in Late-Nineteenth-Century British Fiction

The prelude to my talk sketches our ongoing DFG funded research project on ‘Lecturing Females: Oral Performances, Gender and Sensationalism in Metropolitan Lecturing Institutions and Mass Print Culture, 1860-1910’. Selecting one of the project’s central aspects, Victorian oratory and elocution and the question of vocal sound as the social-material dimension of human language, I then present a literary case study by (briefly) tracing the historical trajectory of monstrous/automatic voices in physiological psychology, sound technology, and Gothic and realist fiction from the mid-nineteenth century to the fin de siècle. Examining how in the context of the new modernity of mass mediation, sonic monstrosity (technologically or hypnotically induced) came to be theorised as a co-creation between performer, subject, and audience/readership who function as ‘sounding board’, the talk ends by revisiting some late-nineteenth-century feminist autobiographical accounts and suffrage novels/short stories which deployed representations of public speech acts as the climax of their conversion narratives. (Female) surrendered agency and mesmeric/spiritualist trance are here replaced by the performative channelling of a disembodied female collectivity, and a Gothic device – the chthonic, ghostly or automatized voice – is transformed into a vehicle of empowerment and (political) resonance.

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

 

Tuesday 12 February 2019 (Week 5)

Dr Ushashi Dasgupta, University of Oxford

Dickens’s Loneliness

‘The little bustling, active, cheerful creature, existed entirely within herself, talked to herself, made a confidante of herself’. The ‘cheerful creature’ is Miss La Creevy, who paints portraits and lets London lodgings for a living: she is a minor character in Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby. Dickens was drawn to lonely characters like Miss La Creevy. This paper introduces them, and explores the ways in which Dickens negotiated the boundaries between solitude and loneliness over the course of his career. It will attempt to answer some of the following questions: what is the history of this emotion, is it a pathology, and how does literature work to define it? Do certain spaces or ways of living make us lonely? What is the relationship between geography, feeling, and health?

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


Wednesday 27 February 2019 (Week 7)

Professor Gowan Dawson, University of Leicester

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‘A Monkey into a Man’: Thomas Henry Huxley, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and the Making of an Evolutionary Icon

The frontispiece to Thomas Henry Huxley’s Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature (1863), showing a sequence of primate skeletons becoming successively taller and more erect before finally reaching the upright human form, is one of the most iconic visual representations of evolution.  This paper will explore the personal tensions and intellectual conflicts amidst which the famous frontispiece was created, revealing the festering antagonism between Huxley and the artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins which makes the image far stranger and more ambiguous than has previously been recognized.

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

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

Podcast – Victorian Light Night: Collaborating with Cheney School

Today we released a podcast detailing our work with Cheney School as part of Victorian Light Night, which you can listen to here. You’ll hear the students read their work, and talk about their winning designs, which can be seen below.

Thanks to Dr Lorna Robinson and Cheney School for making this collaboration possible, and to the students who made it such a success!

 

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First place projection design. Photo credit: Ross Ashton

 

Helena Kahn 1

Second place projection design. Photo credit: Ross Ashton

 

Bella Goff 1

Third place projection design. Photo credit: Ross Ashton

 

Sleep and Stress, Past and Present Schedule

7th December 2018

9:00am—5:00pm

Kohn Centre, The Royal Society

Our one-day interdisciplinary symposium in the Kohn Centre at the Royal Society, Sleep and Stress, Past and Present is this Friday 7 December. The programme is below and there are a few spaces left if you’d like to attend.

£30 delegate fee (£15 concessions) – please book here:  http://bit.ly/RSsleepandstress

Sleep and Stress is being co-organised by the Royal Society and Diseases of Modern Life, University of Oxford.

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Victorian Speed of Life: The Video

Having suitably intrigued you about the projection shown on Victorian Light Night and/or made you sorry you missed it, we are excited to share video footage of “Victorian Speed of Life”, the light and sound show which arose from a research collaboration between Professor Sally Shuttleworth (and the Diseases of Modern Life team), and Ross Ashton and Karen Monid, aka The Projection Studio.

The show is designed to highlight areas of Diseases of Modern Life research on the experience of the pressures of life within the Victorian period. Of the many represented, see if you can spot sequences relating to the rise of the railways, (over)connectivity via the telegraph, environmental pollution, and the retreat to sea or countryside (places which, in turn, became overcrowded sites of pollution). And if you find today’s advertising annoying, there’s a nice sample of Victorian medical adverts here to reassure you that this particular strand of information overload was shared by your ancestors… Enjoy!

Death and Disease Behind the Counter

This term, the Diseases of Modern Life team showcased their research at two major public engagement events – our Victorian Speed Late at the Museum of the History of Science and Victorian Light Night with The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities. Both provided great platforms for me to share my new research on ill-health and retail work in the late nineteenth century, and to chat to the public about work-life balance then and now.

At both events I ran an activity called ‘Death and Disease Behind the Counter’ – a title taken from Thomas Sutherst’s 1884 book of the same name. Sutherst was a barrister who campaigned to improve living and working conditions for shop assistants. His book brings together a range of stories (allegedly) from shop workers, which highlight the overwork endemic in the retail industry. While many people today are aware of the brutalities of Victorian factory work, few know about the pressures that faced shop assistants – my aim was to bring this issue into the public consciousness.

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Alison talks to visitors at Victorian Light Night. Photo by Stuart Bebb.

For the Victorian Speed event we were focusing on time pressures, so I devised an activity that explored a ‘Day in the Life’ of the Victorian shop assistant. I identified a range of case studies to share, drawing on primary sources including literature, journalism, life-writing, and campaigning material such as Sutherst’s book. In prepping materials for the activity, I had to get to grips with Excel (long forgotten since my schooldays) so I could devise pie charts divided into 24 hours to represent the day. I split the charts into different categories, logging how much time each of my case study shop workers spent on sleep/leisure, meals, and work. Given the nature of the sources, it was difficult to plot any more granular details, though we know that the evening entertainments available to shop workers ranged from reading periodicals to visiting the pub or music-hall. Alongside the pie charts, I included quotes from my primary sources that conveyed some of the pressures of retail work, such as how assistants felt towards the end of the day, after 12 or more hours standing on their feet, with minimal breaks.

Day in the Life

This pie chart plots a typical day in the life of Arthur Kipps, the 14 year-old apprentice in H.G. Wells’s 1905 novel Kipps.

These pie charts were a great way to engage people in conversations about the working life of Victorian shop assistants. Members of the public were divided over whether the average working days looked hellish or manageable. Some were shocked at how young the apprentices were, and how they often bore the brunt of the work (starting early to clean the shop floor). One of my examples was the author H.G. Wells, whose autobiography records his experiences of entering shop work at 13. Many people were also surprised to discover how long Victorian shops were open for – I explained that businesses seeking to attract working-class customers often stayed open late into the evenings to pick-up trade from people travelling home after work. On the other hand, some visitors noted that there were few arduous commutes shown on the pie charts. Only one of my case studies – an unnamed female assistant in a baker’s shop – described how unpaid overtime risked her missing the last journey home. Some of my visitors said that at least shop assistants had a designated time set aside for meals (typically 15-20 minutes) while they snatched their lunch breaks at their desks.

The main message I wanted to communicate, however, was that the apparent separation between work and leisure was, in many ways, misleading. The vast majority of shop assistants lived on-site, in accommodation provided by their employers. They often shared rooms (perhaps even beds) with their colleagues, ate food chosen by their employers, and lived under rules imposed by their boss (with fines for breaking curfew, for example). After hearing this, many participants conceded that the Victorian shop worker was even less fortunate than they’d supposed. We talked about the emotional pressures of living and working in one space, possibly without a sense of freedom.

As part of the activity I invited participants to plot their own ‘average working day’. Adults, children and teenagers all got involved, colouring in blank templates of my 24-hour pie chart. They tracked how much time they spent travelling, at work/school, or enjoying leisure time. While some clocked up lengthy hours at work, many were surprised to see that they spent comparatively little time in the office, though some noted they continued to check emails once home. I enjoyed chatting to kids about how they divided their evenings between homework and ‘screen time’ and the role their parents played in regulating this. After completing their pie charts many participants reflected that they had a better time than the Victorians! Though they also spotted plenty of parallels – such as how the boundaries between work/leisure time might be blurred or how ‘free time’ might be circumscribed by the expectations and rules of others.

A Day in the Life - Pie Chat

A parent tracks how much time they spend on ‘paid work’ and ‘kid work’, with a sliver left for ‘leisure’.

Finally, my activity also invited any visitors with their own experiences of life on the shop floor to share their (modern-day) retail work horror stories. While some had fond memories of shoplife, I was surprised and shocked by some of the awful tales I heard. A major theme was rudeness and harassment from customers. One person said that a customer had hurled a chair at them because they didn’t like queuing, while another reported that, at Christmas, a stressed shopper had thrown brussel sprouts at them because the shop was out of brie. One person recalled being ‘spat on and violently prodded’, while several (men and women) spoke about being propositioned by customers. Victorian shop workers, who were expected to be deferential to their customers, no doubt suffered similar horrors. Many of my participants also shared stories of minimal or non-existent breaks, long working days, and the excruciating tedium of working in a shop – one person described feelings of ‘emptiness’, while another said it was like a ‘living death’. This reminded me of a passage in Wells’s semi-autobiographical novel Kipps (1905), where the narrator describes how the titular character (a young apprentice in the drapery business) ‘plumbed an abyss of boredom, or stood a mere carcass with his mind far away’.

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

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

‘Death and Disease Behind the Counter’ was a great activity to get people talking about the lives of shop workers then and now. Having visual materials and a hands-on activity enabled me to have more in-depth conversations with people, and I was fascinated to hear people’s responses to the activity and their own insights into the pressures of shop work. One of the main myths busted was the idea that long opening hours were a modern invention – these were very much a product of Victorian consumerism!

 

 

Oh what a – Victorian Light – Night!

On Friday 16th November Woodstock Road was a hive of activity for “Victorian Light Night”, part of both the national Being Human Festival and Oxford’s own Christmas Light Festival. The Radcliffe Humanities building (known by many as the former Radcliffe Infirmary) became the canvas for a unique light and sound spectacular created by the Projection Studio in conjunction with the Diseases of Modern Life project and TORCH.

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The stage is set for the inherent theatricality of the Radcliffe Humanities building… (Photo credit: Stuart Bebb)

The looped five minute show transported audiences from the rolling green countryside to the mad dash of Victorian mechanisation with its attendant steam, symptoms, and stresses. From the invention of the telegraph to the cholera contagion, the rise of patent medicines to cure the ills of modern life to the overcrowding of  previously peaceful seaside resorts, ‘Victorian Speed of Life’ was a whirlwind tour of the many difficulties facing our ancestors.

Torch Event by Ian Wallman

Beginning the influx of Victorian advertising: the public choose their poison, ahem, I mean, patent medicine.  (Photo credit: Ian Wallman)

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Advert Overload! Source me some of that Neuralgine… (Photo credit: Stuart Bebb)

 

In St Luke’s Chapel visitors played two research-informed card games: Dr Sally Frampton’s Mind-Boggling Medical Histories and Dan Holloway’s Mycelium. There was also a projection of work by students from Cheney School. Members of the Diseases of Modern Life team had previously been into Cheney School to present ideas about Victorian communication technologies and how the nineteenth century saw radical changes in the ways that people got around (the railways) and transmitted their thoughts and feelings (the invention of the penny post, the telegraph). In discussion, we thought about how these developments might be mirrored in modern-day use of such things as WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Skype. The Cheney students produced artistic responses to this presentation which ranged from poems, to pictures, to a song and even a 3D model of a Victorian zoetrope with a modern twist!

We also presented prizes to the winners of the projection competition, whose designs based on the ‘speed of life’ were projected onto the building by The Projection Studio. Seeing your artwork on the front of a three-floor building is quite the honour!

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Winner of First Prize in the Projection Competition 12-year-old Freya Blundel receives her prize from (L to R) Ross Ashton of the Projection Studio, Professor Sally Shuttleworth and Dr Catherine Charlwood. (Photo credit: Stuart Bebb)

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Freya’s winning design featuring timepieces through the ages saw the building awash with colour. (Photo credit: The Projection Studio)

 

Inside the Mathematical Institute, we had a whole host of different activities and a series of flash talks offering an insight into the variety of research happening on the project. Members of the public also enjoyed creating their own weird Victorian Christmas card, following the strange trend for bizarre images – such as a frog dancing with a beetle, or a stone-dead robin – gracing the the front of Victorian festive post.

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On the left we have Dr Alison Moulds with her ‘Death and Disease Behind the Counter’ stall, while on the right visitors have a go at ‘Messaging Madness’ as they tap out and decipher messages in Morse Code. (Photo credit: Stuart Bebb)

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Dr Emilie Taylor-Brown entertains a full house for her talk ‘A Victorian Christmas: Pies, Puddings & Indigestion!’ (Photo credit: Stuart Bebb)

 

The evening wasn’t just about light shows, talks and activities though… In a collaboration with science troubadour Jonny Berliner, Dr Emilie Taylor-Brown and David Pirie danced to a song about Dr Taylor-Brown’s research.

‘The Stomach is the Monarch’ is a song and dance performance inspired by Victorian understandings of digestive health. Does being hungry make you grumpy? Have you ever said “you’re so cute I could eat you up?” Modern science is proving that our stomachs and minds are inexplicably intertwined, but the Victorians got there first!

Dancing the lindy hop, Emilie and David drew huge crowds of gastric health and history of science enthusiasts (and maybe just a few Strictly Come Dancing fans) as they brought research to life.

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Dr Emilie-Taylor Brown and David Pirie mid-performance of ‘The Stomach is the Monarch’, to music by Jonny Berliner. (Photo credit: Stuart Bebb)

 

Throughout the evening, visitors enjoyed carefully curating an outfit from an array of props in order to have a photo taken at the Victorian Photo Booth, enthusiastically run by Decadent Times. After a long evening of engaging with the public, we let our beaver buddy – the mascot of St Anne’s College – fulfill her dream of wearing a top hat.

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‘Tis important to be a dapper creature. Especially if you represent St Anne’s College. (Photo credit: Decadent Times)

 

Thank you so much to everyone who came out to Victorian Light Night – we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

Sleep and Stress, Past and Present

 

Sleep and Stress

7th December 2018

9:00am—5:00pm

Kohn Centre, The Royal Society

A one-day interdisciplinary symposium in the Kohn Centre at the Royal Society, Sleep and Stress, Past and Present brings together expert scientists, medical practitioners, historians and literary critics to discuss the intersections between sleep and stress, both historically and in contemporary society. Prof Russell Foster (Head of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, University of Oxford) will give the keynote lecture.

Other speakers include: Prof Sally Shuttleworth (University of Oxford); Dr Tiffany Watts-Smith (QMUL); Dr Melissa Dickson (University of Birmingham); Prof Nick Franks (Imperial College London); Prof Clark Lawlor (Northumbria University); Prof Chris Fitzpatrick (University College Dublin); Prof Matthew Beaumont (University College London); Dr William MacLehose (University College London); and Prof Guy Goodwin (University of Oxford).

£30 delegate fee (£15 concessions) – please book here:  http://bit.ly/RSsleepandstress

Sleep and Stress is being co-organised by the Royal Society and Diseases of Modern Life, University of Oxford