Victorian Secrets: Crime, Punishment, and Popular Culture, 1790-1920

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By Dr Lucy Jane Sussex
Honorary Associate, La Trobe University and Honorary Associate, Federation University

The term ‘Victorian values’ reappears every now and then in twenty-first century media. Usually, it is politically charged, signifying a nostalgia for better days, to be found in the long nineteenth century (1790-1914). Here be, like dragons, the virtues of hard work, morality, piety, and none of this new-fangled debauchery.

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Marking Columbus’s First Journey

Columbus Day celebration

Working for a US-based company like Gale, a part of Cengage Learning, it is hard to escape the fanfare of nationwide ‘federal holidays’. Far more interesting – and, seemingly, more commonplace – than the various ‘bank holidays’ we have here in the UK, the US recognises eight official federal holidays. Yet when I noticed that Columbus Day was pencilled in on my email calendar for 10th October 2016, I was surprised to learn that it was not, in fact, considered one of those eight holidays. In 2013, just 24 states observed the holiday. A mark of the re-evaluation of Columbus’s influence upon America and, for many, the effects upon indigenous ways of life, Columbus Day is today a far more contested occasion than it once might have been. With January marking 524 years since Columbus was granted the funds to finally embark upon his first voyage, I was spurred to delve into Gale’s digital archival collections to see if I could detect a change in mood towards Columbus Day observance.

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From coupons to cocktail dresses: tracking changes to women’s wartime fashion using the Picture Post

Clothes for a coupon summer

The New Year often brings a sense of “out with the old, in with the new”. For the fashion-conscious, it’s a good excuse to revamp ones wardrobe and go shopping. These days it’s easy to buy new clothes every season, but it was very different during the Second World War. Then, clothing was rationed and had to be reused as much as possible. Once the war was over, the “out with the old” attitude finally prevailed over rationing, culminating in Christian Dior’s ground-breaking ‘New Look’. I used Picture Post and other newspaper archives in Gale Artemis: Primary Sources to track changing attitudes to fashion in the newspapers and magazines of the time.

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The Commercialisation of Christmas

Christmas, Daily Mail, 1900

Undoubtedly, many still appreciate and celebrate the deeply religious roots of Christmas, yet it has also become a commercialised event in many countries today. From mid-November, high-streets are packed with snowflake window stickers, festive deals and cheery Christmas music to entice shoppers into an economically indulgent mood. Yet, despite the general consensus and participation in commercialising Christmas, this is often assumed to be a new phenomenon, part of today’s world. ‘Born to Buy’, an article in Gale’s Academic OneFile, offers an example of such sentiments;

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Early Arabic Printed Books from the British Library: Editor’s highlights

One of the best things about being Product Editor on the Early Arabic Printed Books archive is being exposed to works that I have never encountered before. Having worked on rare book digitisation projects many times in the past, it’s a real treat to work on something so different, so challenging, and so beautiful. Below are some of the works that are particular highlights to me.

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Tales for the ‘Every-day Reader’: Winston Churchill and the ‘War in the Indian Highlands’

When the name ‘Winston Churchill’ is mentioned, images of a heroic war leader with cigar in mouth and face set in steely determination are usually the first to come to mind. His wartime speeches became iconic in symbolising gung-ho British determination to battle on through endless bloodshed, helping steer Britain through the turmoil of a cataclysmic conflict. Yet, with perhaps less well-known flair, the former Prime Minister proved equally adept on paper. This is evident in his first published material: a series of war letters commissioned for British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

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Dorothy L. Sayers and The Mysterious English

Chatham House

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) is probably best remembered for her gripping crime novels, and her creation of the much-loved, aristocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey. It is perhaps less commonly known that, beyond her carefully-woven fictional tales, Sayers also possessed a keen interest in politics and current affairs. In August 1940, it was this interest that prompted Sayers to deliver a speech at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, in London.

Sayers’ speech was entitled The Mysterious English, and the 15-page transcript has been digitised as part of the Chatham House Online Archive .1 As one would expect, the oration is full of Sayers’ characteristic wit and humour, and the document offers a unique insight into the author’s attitudes and opinions.

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The Whitechapel Murders: exploring Jack the Ripper’s victims in the Crime, Punishment, and Popular Culture archive

Twelve!

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the East End of London was terrorised by a series of gruesome murders at the hands of the notorious ‘Jack the Ripper’. Ripper’s true identity was never discovered, and even though nearly 125 years have passed since his last attack his name still sends a shiver down the spine.

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Occupying Alcatraz: The Native American Experience Then and Now

Alcatraz

Whilst the media widely documents the racial tensions still present in American society, there tends to be greater coverage of the plight of African Americans, leaving other racial and ethnic minorities under-represented. Given that this Friday, 20th November, is an anniversary of the day a group of Native Americans occupied Alcatraz island to highlight what they claimed to be historical and contemporary exploitation of Indian rights by successive governments, it seems opportune to spend time exploring Gale’s databases and archives to find out what occurred 46 years ago, and what it means for Native Americans today.

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The Figure of Guy Fawkes – Past, Present and Future

Guy Fawkes has become something of an icon in the British psyche; we foster an underlying admiration for the plotter, despite his attempt to orchestrate murder. This is partly based on an innocent relish for royal intrigue and romanticised view of a time of ruffs, candles and pointed shoes. Yet there is a tension between British attitudes towards recent acts of social disorder, terrorism and violent political expression, and our euphemized view of attempted murder in seventeenth-century England. The complexity of our collective memorialisation and current attitude towards the Gunpowder Plot can be explored by charting its development in the Gale archives.

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