I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the Victorian era on the back of my work documenting Dow’s pharmacy.
During that period the world changed immeasurably, with the electric telegraph enabling long distance near instantaneous communication, the railway and the steamship substantially reducing the cost of freight, allowing global commerce, as well as allowing people to travel beyond their home parishes.
One of my favourite stories is about Rocke and Tompsitt, pharmaceutical wholesalers in Melbourne. One partner stayed in Melbourne, the other relocated to London, and by dint of the telegraph they were able to substantially quicken the turnround on orders for products imported from the UK.
At the same time the penny post – and cheap colonial mails – allowed people to send letters, order goods, and maintain contact with friends and family.
All in all a fascinating period of history.
But I’m also aware that there are gaps in my knowledge, so I thought I’d do some long distance study to identify gaps in my knowledge.
As I live in rural Victoria, online distance education seemed the best solution – we have good internet, and we’re close enough to the city to manage the occasional day trip if required.
So I thought the answer would be a MOOC – a short course, no obligations on either side, I could drop out if wasn’t doing it for me. I wasn’t a total freetard, I was happy enough to pay a modest fee for online tuition and gaining some sort of certificate at the end.
On a more personal note, it is 40 years since I last did any formal study – and while I’ve done a lot of professional training and learning in these 40 years – it’s not the same as academic study, so again a MOOC seemed ideal to let me see how I went with going back to study.
So I went looking.
Ideally I’d have signed up to an Australian one, it’s just easier being in near enough the same timezone for shared sessions, but a UK one would also have been fine given the sort of material that I wanted to cover.
Colonial Australia tended to follow the UK playbook, and things that happened there came here etc etc.
I more or less ruled out US Victorian studies as the history of the post Civil War US and its economic development was quite different.
Well it didn’t really matter.
There was a time when MOOCs were flavour of the month, but not any more. They seem to have morphed into an online training solution in the main.
Now maybe there weren’t ever that many Victorian Studies MOOCs but I can tell you that I found exactly one – from Oxford University’s Continuing Education service.
It was a paid for course, which was fine, but it was only around $500 – which while it’s a reasonable amount of money, the cost was around the same as a multi day oil painting workshop costs J.
Unfortunately, a critical part of the course coincided with when I’d planned to be in Norfolk Island, so that wasn’t going to fly.
Perhaps next time.
But what was interesting was the number of UK universities spruiking masters courses in Victorian Studies, and equally interesting was just how many of them came out of English departments rather than History departments.
Many of them seemed based around nineteenth century literature, and while it is true that literature tells us how people felt and reacted to the changes in society brought about by the changes in technology – Wilkie Collins is full of references to train travel and the penny post, and of course Magwitch’s money in Great Expectations come from his sheep farming business as a ticket of leave man, it doesn’t cover the whole picture with the technological changes, and the appearance of consumer goods, be it toothpaste or patent medicine …