VMM Update – Finding Jokes

The Victorian Meme Machine is a collaboration between the British Library Labs and Dr Bob Nicholson (Edge Hill University). The project will create an extensive database of Victorian jokes and then experiment with ways to recirculate them out over social media. For an introduction to the project, take a look at this blog post or this video presentation.

Stage One: Finding Jokes

Whenever I tell people that I’m working with the British Library to develop an archive of nineteenth-century jokes, they often look a bit confused. “I didn’t think the Victorians had a sense of humour”, somebody told me recently. This is a common misconception. We’re all used to thinking of the Victorians as dour and humourless; as a people who were, famously, ‘not amused’. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, jokes circulated at all levels of Victorian culture. While most of them have now been lost to history, a significant number have survived in the pages of books, periodicals, newspapers, playbills, adverts, diaries, songbooks, and other pieces of printed ephemera. There are probably millions of Victorian jokes sitting in libraries and archives just waiting to be rediscovered – the challenge lies in finding them.

In truth, we […]

Introducing… the Victorian Meme Machine!

What would it take to make a Victorian joke funny again?
Nothing short of a miracle, you might think. After all, there are few things worse than a worn-out joke. Some provoke a laugh, and the best are retold to friends, but even the most delectable gags are soon discarded. While the great works of Victorian art and literature have been preserved and celebrated by successive generations, even the period’s most popular jokes have now been lost or forgotten.

Fortunately, thousands of these endangered jests have been preserved within the British Library’s digital collections. I applied to this year’s British Library Labs Competition because I wanted to find these forgotten gags and bring them back to life. Over the next couple of months we’re going to be working together on a new digital project – the ‘Victorian Meme Machine’ [VMM].

The VMM will create an extensive database of Victorian jokes that will be available for use by both researchers and members of the public. It will analyse jokes and semi-automatically pair them with an appropriate image (or series of images) drawn from the British Library’s digital collections and other participating archives. Users will be able to re-generate the pairings until they discover a […]

Nineteenth-Century Nuts: The Anatomy of a Victorian Lad’s Mag (Part 1)

Nineteenth-Century Nuts
The Anatomy of a Victorian Lad’s Mag

It’s all gone tits up. Nuts, the beleaguered lads’ mag, has finally cracked under the twin pressures of outrage (from those who didn’t read it) and indifference (from those who once did). As a Guardian-reading feminist I should probably be quite glad to see it go, but the historian in me feels a pang of sadness. I work on the history of popular newspapers and magazines, so whenever a long-running publication closes its doors I feel compelled to mourn its passing. Even when the odious News of the World went to joing the great newsagent in the sky I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate the death of a 160 year old publication, no matter how toxic it had become. Nuts doesn’t have anything like this kind of history, but its death still feels like the end of an era. Front magazine closed its doors in February, the company behind Penthouse filed for bankruptcy last Autumn, and the circulation figures of most other men’s magazines are in freefall. Now that one of the genre’s flagship publications has sunk, titles like Zoo, FHM and Loaded seem sure to follow. For better or worse, the lad’s mag is on its last legs.

I was seventeen when Nuts was launched, […]

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