Monday, July 30, 2012

Why I am obsessed with the Great Exhibition of 1851

Confession: I am obsessed with The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, held in 1851 in Hyde Park. .  It's on my short list of "back in time" sites. 

Put simply, it was the first World's Fair.  There had been national exhibitions by other countries, such as France, but this was the first international exhibition.  A project spearheaded by Prince Albert, the Great Exhibition was ambitious and wide-reaching. Granted, the purpose of including other countries was to convey the tacit message of Britain's technological superiority, but the conglomeration of so many countries, showcasing their valuables and talents, was unprecedented. Materially and ideologically, the Great Exhibition represents the best and brightest of Victorian Britain.

Now, not all of the countries were well represented.  For instance, China refused to participate so the artifacts displayed were from British private collections.  Since Japan was still closed to foreigners in 1851, it didn't have its own display; some "japanned" pieces were included in the China section.

To me, the building alone sounds breathtaking.  Designed by Joseph Paxton and dubbed "The Crystal Palace," the glass and metal structure resembles, well, a Brobdingnagian birdcage.  Lots of greenhouses since then have replicated its delicate brilliance.  And the Crystal Palace restaurant at Disney World is a "mere mortal" version of the magnificent structure. 
The Crystal Palace was moved in 1854 to Syndenham Hall (and dinosaur statues were added!); sadly, the edifice was destroyed by a fire in 1936.
In addition to some wonderful books about the Great Exhibition (including a detailed illustrated catalog of the items displayed), here are some great online resources. 

The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 was convened in 1850 to design and execute Prince Albert's plan for a grand international extravaganza that celebrated industry and technology. The Royal Commission still exists today:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Plagiarism, Copyright, and the Shifting Ethics of the Internet

Like many other bloggers this week, I have taken down all photos from my blog(s) that weren't photos I took or had express permission to use.  And here is why:

I knew before reading about this author's experience that the Internet is making copyright and plagiarism much more of a gray area than it used to be...not that the rules have changed but that it's sometimes harder for people to tell when they aren't following the rules.  Roni Loren's experience and post remind us what the rules are and, unfortunately, how we can be punished if we don't adhere to them.  Far too many people get away without punishment (just take a random look at Pinterest and Tumblr, where so many people post--or manipulate and then post--images and videos they don't own) on a daily basis.  It's fun and whimsical and even inspirational...but it's easy to forget that it's material that doesn't belong to us.  Even if we make note of where it came from, that's not the same thing as explicit permission.

Some might argue that the Internet is creating a post-ownership world...but that's usually coming from people who aren't the owners.  If an owner/creator CHOOSES to make his/her work freely available (and that's not the same as posting it on the web---they have to explicitly state that other people are free to use it for a, b, and c purposes)---if an owner/creator makes that choice, then by all means, that's a wonderfully generous act that will perhaps inspire others.  But that's still the owner's prerogative.  That doesn't negate the idea of ownership.

Some might argue that the photographer in Roni Loren's case was too harsh.  I get that.  The photographer could have been mollified by the removal of the material. my other life, I deal with plagiarism pretty regularly.  And I get that argument from students a lot.  "Does this have to be reported to the Dean? Can't I just fix it?" While the pushover in me wants to say yes, I cannot forget that, as often as not, people don't truly learn or change unless the stakes are high enough.  And, in my situation, such reports stay in-house--they don't get added to the student's transcript or follow the student to an employer.  The consequences are large enough to convey to the student that plagiarism is wrong not just because I personally say it's wrong but rather because there are public (potentially legal, financial, and social) ramifications. But they're mild enough that I hope it truly is a learning experience for the student without jeopardizing their entire academic career.

Ultimately, I applaud Roni Loren for speaking out about her costly experience and allowing other bloggers and writers to learn from it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why the 1850s was an interesting sartorial time

In the future, I'll spend some time discussing how the development of Victorian fashion was aligned with the spread of class-conscious consumerism (think Rosamund Lydgate in Eliot's Middlemarch), but for now let's just enjoy some of the lovely particularities of 1850s Victorian fashion.

Women's skirts were very close to being the widest they would become in this period...except that the cage crinoline wasn't popularized until 1856. After the 1860s, the bustle developed, and skirts gradually became more form-fitting, at least in the front.  So at the middle of the 19th century, women's necklines were getting higher (at least during the day), their waistlines smaller with the use of longer and tighter stays, and their skirts wider (and heavier with the addition of more petticoats). Okay, so I can't say I would enjoy being dressed so, but there is something fascinating about this use of fashion as control, both for gender and for social class. (I know, I know, I promise I'll save that analytical discussion for another day--including the Victorian "thrift shop" and the practice of re-styling/re-making dresses with existing fabric.)

Instead, below are a few links to help characterize and identify 1850s.
Note:  One feature I love that easily dates a dress from the early 1850s is the pagoda sleeve. The fanning sleeve, frequently with puffy white undersleeves added, strikes me as an interestingly subtle incorporation of the exotic Far East. The dress pictured above is dated as 1860, and the pagoda sleeve is detachable!


How to dress Victorian (I feel claustrophobic just reading it):

Men's fashions, while generally stable, went through some not-so-subtle developments of their own, as depicted here.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Why I love the Internet

As much as my academic history has been steeped in research, I still cannot imagine how challenging it was to write historical fiction before the Internet.  Here are just a few of the online resources I love, even if they don't directly apply to my current writing:

A Celebration of Women Writers (University of Pennsylvania)

Godey's Lady Book (University of Vermont)

Literary Resources - Victorian British (Rutgers University)

The Dictionary of Victorian London (Lee Jackson)

Internet Library of Early Journals (Universities of Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, and Oxford) - I'm especially pleased they include Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine and Notes and Queries

The Victorian Web (George Landow)

Next week...Victorian fashions and related resources

NECRWA 2017 Follow-up!

*ahem* *looks around* *sweeps away the dust bunnies and cobwebs* So...hi! It's apparently been quite a while since I last sa...