19th Century British history

My planning is often serendipitous. Finding good books. External activities going on. Taking a 3 month trip to Europe. That kind of thing drives the kinds of subjects that we might study around here.

This year’s serendipitous activity is that Tigger is auditioning for the Junior Performance Company at the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama. We have a back-up plan in case she doesn’t get in, but Mat and I have been thinking about what topics that might suggest if she does. They will be performing Dickens’ Great Expectations. So we’ve been thinking that 19th Century British history would be a good idea.

When sorting out the books from my former life as an academic recently (did I tell you that I took a whole bunch to a friend who is a recovering 2nd hand bookseller?) I found Nineteenth-Century Britain: A Very Short Introduction which I must have got as an inspection copy from Oxford University Press.  I’ve skimmed it a bit and think it might make a good read aloud and general survey spine. (I also had their Sociology book from this series which I’ve sent to a good home. To see what else is available in this series, check the Very Short Introduction page at OUP.)

Mat and I are reasonably knowledgeable about some of the origins of social science in this period and have been thinking about introducing Tigger to early sociology and political economy alongside the more general history. I’m going to see if I can find copies of Harriet Martineau’s Illustrations of Political Economy, which was also serialized and actually sold more copies than Dickens at the time. They are an attempt to educate the masses in the principles of political economy using fables. (It appears that they are available online. However, some have been reprinted with an introduction and other supplementary material. The reviews of that Broadview edition suggest that it makes direct connections to the literature of Dickens, which might be quite handy. For me, anyway.)

There are also some very famous large-scale surveys of living conditions in this period, including Engels survey in Manchester and Booth’s in London. (In the US, there is an excellent study of Philadelphia around this period by W.E.B. DuBois titled The Philadelphia Negro that is a similar scope.) I’m not sure how accessible this stuff is or whether there are good books about it that we could read together but just finding links for this post has revealed some interesting possibilities. (That Booth link looks fabulous.)

My goal would be to give some context to Dickens commentary on social change, social status, and living conditions at this time. He used fiction to address these issues, but there was plenty of debate going on at the time with which he must have been engaged. Right now, that sounds like a pretty hefty goal for an 11 year old but I just want to get a sense of the range and then choose some items to explore throughout the year.

So here is my request to you: do you know of any resources about this period that would be suitable for a bright middle-schooler? They don’t have to be things she would read herself. Our preference is for well-written, engaging non-fiction. I’d also be interested in video resources if you know of any. Thanks.


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