Victorian Material Culture

deadline for submissions: 
November 10, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
Centre for Victorian Studies, Jadavpur University
contact email: 

The Confidential Clerk (ISSN 2454-6100), an open-access and peer-reviewed journal of the Centre for Victorian Studies, Jadavpur University, seeks contributions for its 2016/17 issue on Victorian Material Culture.

Concept Note

In the summer of 1851 Queen Victoria’s Great Britain was ready to showcase itself not only as one of the most powerful European nations, but also to exhibit to the world its industrial prowess, its rapidly expanding scientific and technological knowledge and application, effectively propelling the transition to industrial capital that would go on to ensure that the sun did not set in the British empire for almost another century. The Great Exhibition, proposed by Prince Albert, created the space to demonstrate the works of industry of all nations. With the threat of Chartism having been successfully neutralised at the House of Commons, Britain was at peace. Albert could write to his cousin King William of Prussia, that ‘we have no fear here either of an uprising or an assassination.’ Consequent to the development of mass production England was experiencing a manufacturing boom and reinventing herself as an urban industrialised nation on the international stage. In the Great Exhibition there were some 100,000 objects, displayed along more than 10 miles, by over 15,000 contributors. Britain, as host, occupied half the display space inside, with exhibits from the home country and the Empire. One of the upstairs galleries was walled with stained glass through which the sun streamed in technicolour. Almost as brilliantly coloured were carpets from Axminster and ribbons from Coventry.

Material culture is a broad term covering all aspects of the material world, including clothing, household goods, tools, buildings, roads, books, periodicals, photographs, paintings, museums, and ornaments. In other words, material culture encompasses everything which involves the design, manufacture, and use of the material world. From the industrial novels of Benjamin Disraeli, Charles Dickens, and Elizabeth Gaskell to the work of John Ruskin, William Morris and Walter Pater, Victorians engaged in complex ways with the diversity of material cultural forms, whether cheap cotton goods, handmade crafts, or the art and architecture of the period. Social historians of the period have long explored the abundance of products generated by the industrial revolution; however, there has in recent years been a growing interest in the study of commodity cultures and consuming practices. Research has also moved toward examinations of the global exchange of goods between Britain and its Empire, the display of artefacts in the newly built museums of Victorian London, the development of retail centres in towns and cities and the peddling of numerous products and services on the streets of the emerging metropolitan centres, the advertisements of goods in periodicals and on the streets, the cultural role of the fashion industry, representations of objects in literature, design reform movements such as Arts and Crafts, the Victorian home, the collection and collecting practices along with other human interactions with the material world. The 19th century became an age that would go on to define itself to an unprecedented degree through its material culture, both to itself and to posterity, with subjects and objects merging in dynamic ways, becoming metonyms of each other and finding themselves materially transformed through this exchange.

For this issue of The Confidential Clerk, we invite papers exploring and analysing the material culture of the 19th century. The papers may examine, but need not be limited to the subjects given below:

  • The making of imperial Britain through material culture
  • Women as consumers and the culture of consumption
  • The mechanical home and the new domesticity
  • Archiving material culture
  • The Empire and commodities
  • Objects and affect
  • The world in photographs: the exotic and the mundane
  • The idea in things
  • Imagination, Science and Spectacle
  • Objects in History and the History of Objects
  • The Great Exhibition and the culture of materialism
  • The art and commerce of Victorian advertising
  • The materiality of the body in Victorian Britain
  • The object as the subject of art
  • The culinary arts or the culture of food

We invite college and university professionals, and research scholars to submit abstracts of about 500 words to, on or before November 10, 2016. A brief bio-note (50-70 words) about the author, his/her affiliation and contact details should also be attached to the mail. For more details, please visit our website :

Entries are accepted both in English and Bengali.

Please note that abstracts should be submitted through email only, and queries may be directed to the same address.