The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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The Victorian City: Comprehending Social Developments in British and Colonial Society in the 19th Century

(2013-14 Term 2)

Course Details

Lecturer:Prof. Ian Morley
Phone: (852) 394 37116
Office: KHB 129

TA: Ms. Tse Hiu Tung, Christy

Lecture Time: 6.30-8.15 pm, Fridays 

Lecture Venue: Yasumoto International Academic Park, Lecture Theatre 7

Language: English


Course Description and Learning Outcomes

British society greatly evolved in the nineteenth century, an age characterised by the railway, steam, democracy, cities, slums, disease, and also empire. In such a backdrop this module is devoted to understanding this era of great cultural change and how citizens of the Victorian city navigated through, both in a social and psychological way, their unfolding environments and society’s ‘development’. Taking a thematic approach to the Victorian period the module focuses upon a range of cities so as to explore the connections between economics, society, culture, and the urban environment in Britain and, where possible, the colonial world. In doing so students will consider a variety of themes such as transport, population growth, government expansion, education, housing and public health, crime and punishment, moral panics, architecture, class, race, behavioural codes, disease and dying in order to become acquainted with many of the critical changes that affected urban society in Britain and, moreover, how these transitions shaped imperial expansion and consolidation. Where possible comparisons with other western cities will be made in order to draw larger conclusions about what made this period distinct and so valuable to both British and global history.


To consider changes within the Victorian City the module will emphasise matters of urbanisation (the nature and development of the built environment), the moral environment (perception and images, living conditions, and policy) as well as shall recognise how the Victorians struggled to come to terms with the unfolding nature of their society, and the problems evident within it. To aid an understanding of this period of history fundamental to the shaping of modern Britain, and moreover the shaping of modern societies such as Hong Kong, a ‘doing approach’ to History is adopted. Using wherever possible primary sources students will be informed of how to think historically as well as learn the broad outlines of cultural evolution in the period selected, in this way the course provides a valuable opportunity to appraise the various factors shaping British cities and British colonial society in the 19th century.


By the end of the module it is anticipated that students should be able to:

  1. Recognise the broad social, cultural, and economic shifts that influenced the evolution of British society during the Victorian Age.
  2. Grasp the day-to-day challenges of life within Victorian Cities, and express knowledge the development of British society in the form of written assignments.
  3. Appreciate the relationship between Britain and its colonies, and how and why this association shaped life inside British towns and cities.
  4. Demonstrate historical knowledge via a tutorial short presentation.
  5. Develop critical and evaluative skills through direct encounters with primary and secondary sources.
  6. Train to use a variety of source materials in order to deepen knowledge of urban and cultural development.


Ground Rules

In order for all classroom situations to work effectively certain rules need to be established. Regulations relating to the classroom teaching of the programme include:

  1. ŸReasonable behaviour during lectures and tutorials. You will be asked to leave should you act inappropriately.
  2. ŸPaying attention to the Lecturer and Tutor.
  3. Do not talk when the Lecturer/Tutor is teaching. The Lecturer/Tutor will not continue during a disruption.
  4. Having an awareness of CUHK safety regulations within the university environment.
  5. ŸHaving an awareness that you are responsible for your own learning.
  6. You should come prepared to lectures and tutorials.
  7. Arrive on time to any lecturers and tutorials to be given.
  8. ŸTurn mobile phones off once in the classroom. However if you anticipate an important call please inform your Lecturer/Tutor in advance.
  9. Try to attend as many lecturers and tutorials as is possible.
  10. Take appropriate noted during lecturers and tutorials.
  11. Read recommended texts and other materials to boost your understanding of the subjects being taught.
  12. Plagiarism shall not be tolerated.
  13. Participation means more than the mere attendance of lectures and tutorials: you must be prepared to do the required readings and be prepared to contribute to classroom discussions.


Potential Problems

Being a student, especially if you’re married, have children and/or have a full-time job, for example, is obviously not easy. Juggling a professional and home life with the demands of a university course can be troublesome at times. Consequently some simple behavioural patterns are advisable at this point. By way of example, be thoroughly organised from the start of the term, note down the deadlines of any work to be handed in or dates of any presentations to be given as well as the dates of tutorials you are expected to attend. Moreover given the demands upon you by work and home problems can occur. If difficulties do arise that will impact upon your studies please contact your Prof. Morley immediately. Importantly, when problems do arise please do not wait until to tell your situation. Problems when they initially occur can be managed far more easily than ones that are bigger in nature.