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 [...]
Introducing... the Victorian Meme Machine! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8LkH0I8mEg 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 [...]
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 [...]
Title: 'Digital Detectives - Bridging the Gap Between the Archive and the Classroom' Event: Digital Literacies - Building Learning Communities in the Humanities, HEA Arts & Humanities Workshop, Liverpool John Moores University, 2 April 2014. Hashtag: #DigitalLiteracies // Storify Notes: Last week I attended a brilliant HEA workshop organised by @DrHorrocks. In my presentation I spoke about my recent attempts to integrate digital research into my undergraduate teaching. I outlined how we can use digital archives to transform undergraduate history students into empowered producers, rather than just passive consumers, of research. If you're interested in learning more about the 'Digital Detectives' model of undergraduate history teaching then please get in touch - I offer talks and practical workshops for history departments that would like to make better use of their digital resources. I didn't write out a script for this presentation - the text below is a rough approximation of what I said on the day, accompanied by some of my powerpoint slides. I have also added some student feedback data, which was not available at the time of the presentation. About 5 years ago, when I first started teaching, I led a small seminar group of 1st year history students. [...]
In September 1859 a "Grand Village Band Contest" was held in a place called Loftus - a small moorland-village on the North-Yorkshire coast, not far from the house where I grew up. Music filled the air and crowds poured in from miles around to witness the spectacle. Among them was John Hollingshead, a London journalist and theatrical impresario who would later go on to produce the first collaboration between Gilbert and Sullivan. At this point he was making his way in the business under the tutelage of Charles Dickens by contributing articles to Household Words and All the Year Round. His account of the "Musical Prize Fight" at Loftus appeared in the latter magazine in November 1859. It's a delightful account of an outsider's visit to the area and features a Dickensian cast of local characters. 119 years later, in 1978, my parents unearthed a copy of the article in a second-hand bookshop. My Dad (a historian) began to explore the history of the Loftus Band Contest, while my Mam (an artist) started illustrating some of the scenes from Hollingshead's account. Her pen & ink drawings are fabulous. She's far too modest to make this comparison herself, but the characterisation and delightful background details remind [...]
A copy of History and Humour: British and American Perspectives has just landed in my pigeon hole. It's a new book packed with interesting essays exploring the relationship between history and humour, plus an article by me to make up the numbers. My piece compares Twain's Connecticut Yankee with Wilde's Canterville Ghost and throws in a few newspaper jokes for good measure. Here's how the editors' introduction describes it: BOB NICHOLSON, in a transatlantic comparison of late-Victorian usage of history in newspaper joke columns and comic novels, observes a struggle on the part of Britain to come to terms with America’s increasing economic and cultural superiority. Thus, joke writers and literary humorists tended to "juxtapose images of the American future with those of an idealised British past" and emphasised the "centrality of history to British national identity at a time when the country’s future was beginning to look increasingly uncertain." This uncertainty may also be observed in the fact that British humorists turned to the past in the attempt to reaffirm British superiority, yet the popular reception of transatlantic humour at the same time indicates an acceptance of modern American culture in Britain. I couldn't (and, in fact, didn't) put it better myself!
The Research Society for Victorian Periodicals has just announced the next Gale Fellowship competition. I was fortunate enough to win the inaugural competition. The prize money and the archive access were great, but more importantly it drew me into the RSVP community and helped me to meet some brilliant scholars and make many new friends. Any PhD students working with nineteenth-century periodicals should take a look. Details of the competition are listed below. Please re-circulate. The Research Society for Victorian Periodicals (RSVP) is pleased to announce the fifth annual Gale Dissertation Research Fellowship, made possible by the generosity of publisher Gale, part of Cengage Learning, in support of dissertation research that makes substantial use of full-text digitized collections of 19th-century British magazines and newspapers. A prize of $1500 will be awarded, together with one year's passworded subscription to selected digital collections from Gale, including 19th Century UK Periodicals and 19th Century British Library Newspapers. Purpose: The purpose of the Gale Dissertation Research Fellowship is two-fold: (1) to support historical and literary research that deepens our understanding of the 19th-century British press in all its rich variety, and (2) to encourage the scholarly use of collections of full-text digital facsimiles of [...]
Excellent news! Welsh Newspapers Online have added six new titles to their database: Cambrian News 1860 -1910 Cambrian 1804-1910 Cardiff Times 1858 - 1910 Monmouthshire Merlin 1829 - 1884 South Wales Daily Post 1893 -1900 Weekly Mail 1879-1910 I was really impressed with this free-to-access archive when I reviewed it back in March. The new titles represent a significant expansion of the database - particularly in its coverage of South Wales. I've run through my usual set of searches and discovered another example of the 'You Kick the Bucket; We Do the Rest' joke!
Have you heard about ARTEMIS? Don't worry, it's not another one of the NSA's high-tech spying programs - unless they're looking for terrorists by scrutinizing our ancestors' private communications, which, in the light of recent revelations, isn't actually that implausible. I first became aware of the project a few months ago when I was invited by email to pass judgement on some prospective logos. I picked the other one, which just goes to show how much I know about corporate branding. At the time I wasn't really sure what Artemis was, save for the fact that it was named after the Greek goddess of hunting, wild animals and virginity. I've been wondering which of her three characteristics the new project would resemble and, rather disappointingly, it turns out to be the first. Artemis is Gale's new research platform. It's a space where users can access and analyse material from multiple digital archives using analytical new tools. In it's own words: "Artemis is a path-breaking research experience that unites Gale's globally acclaimed digital archives and reference collections. By building a seamless research environment for multiple collections, Gale is creating the largest digital humanities and social sciences collection in the world. Starting with Eighteenth [...]
As an academic and bleeding-heart liberal I've long considered it my duty to read The Guardian. It's hard going sometimes, but most days I manage to grit my teeth and get through it. Lately, however, my commitment has started to waver. In my weaker moments I find myself logging onto the Daily Mail website and gawping wondrously at its bi-polar diet of moral outrage and showbiz gossip. It seems that an eight year old American girl has been murdered by a sex offender that her family befriended in a Walmart, but on the plus side Abbey Crouch is showing off her beach body and Tulisa looks super slim in a tight print dress as she parties for the first time since her drugs arrest. It's a relief just to know that she's OK. Of course, I'd never admit to reading any of this stuff. I leave The Guardian website open on my office computer in order to impress passers-by, but browse the Daily Mail in incognito mode and only when the house is empty. After all, calling somebody a 'Daily Mail Reader' is just about the worst form of abuse imaginable in the lefty intellectual circles I frequent. If my occasional acts of [...]