Student comments on Victorian cartoons

Last term I had the pleasure of leading HI416 Victorian Britain, a stage one module at the University of Kent. I introduced a number of social media elements to the module, some more successful than others. I plan to write a longer post about this at Teaching at Kent over the Summer, but for now I want to mention briefly the assessed forum.

In preparation for each seminar, students were expected to contribute to a forum with posts discussing their reading, lectures, or research exercises. For the second seminar, the research exercise instructed the students as follows:

Go to the British Cartoon Archive website or archive in the Templeman library and research cartoon representations of Victorian politics and politicians (retrospective cartoons are welcome) and print a cartoon you are willing to talk about in seminar discussion. If you find a cartoon about Victorian politics or a Victorian politician which you don’t understand, then post it to the forum – a fellow student might be able to enlighten you…

A number of students choose to post their thoughts on the cartoons they found in the forum, and I have now put together a virtual exhibition on the British Cartoon Archive website annotated with some of these comments.

Throughout the module the quality of student input was pleasing, and the commentaries on the cartoons are no exception. It is hard to pick a favourite, but this commentary by Oliver Parken on John Doyle’s Something between the sublime & the ridiculous just sneeks it:

When considering the cartoon itself was published in April 1837, the context becomes much clearer.  Not only was this the year of Victoria’s accession to the throne, it was the year of a general election. Despite gaining around 40% of the vote, Peel’s Conservative party was still in a minority to Melbourne’s Whig administration, which gained around 55%. Moreover, Peel’s 1834 Tamworth Manifesto suggests a separation of Peel’s new ‘Conservative’ party from that of Wellington’s before. Going against the conventions of the constitution, the manifesto highlights Peel’s support for the Reform Act of 1832, (which gave seats to newly formed industrial towns) and how this line of argument could be seen as a contradiction to previous Tory policy.

(c) Tabley House Collection Trust / University of Manchester, British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent.
John Doyle, Something between the sublime & the ridiculous, 27 April 1837.

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