The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations was an international exhibition which took place in Hyde Park, London, from 1st May to 11th October 1851. It was arguably the greatest of a series of international ‘expositions’ run throughout the nineteenth century, celebrating scientific and technological innovation, design aesthetic and the might of manufacturing. On show were some 13,000 objects from Britain, the Colonies and forty-four other nations. The Exhibition and the Crystal Palace which housed it became a British icon, symbolising free trade and national success. During its six month opening period, over six million people visited the Exhibition, turning London, in the words of the Illustrated London News, from ‘the capital of a great nation, [into] the metropolis of the world’. The effects of the Exhibition were enormous and felt well into the twentieth century and beyond. But why was the Great Exhibition so important? How did it become a turning point for the nation? And what exactly has its legacy been?
Aims and Objectives
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:
- analyse critically a variety of textual, visual and material culture sources
- understand and contextualise primary source material and express this in essay
- engage with secondary literature on the impact of the Great Exhibition, contributing to the debates relating to its short and long term legacy
Knowledge and Understanding
Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:
- key objects and products which stemmed from the Exhibition itself which you can use to explore a range of phenomena, including the rise of the heritage industry and the popularity of photography, stereoscopy and film
- the aftermath of the Great Exhibition, including the actions of the Royal Commission, alongside current historiographical debates surrounding its immediate impact;
- the wider context of cultural change, with a focus on the development of education and mass entertainment at a national level;
- key primary sources and literature, charting the results of the Great Exhibition, how it changed Britain’s approach to national heritage and its ongoing legacy;
Transferable and Generic Skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:
- research historical questions and communicate your findings convincingly and concisely in written essays and reports
- structure your ideas and research findings into well-ordered essays
- utilise and develop your time-management skills
- locate and use effective textual, visual and material culture sources in the library and on-line, synthesising this material in order to develop cogent arguments
The Royal Commission, established in 1851 to organise the Great Exhibition, is still in existence today, nearly 170 years after the event. Now, it provides funding for research in the fields of science, engineering and industrial design, but immediately following the Exhibition its first task was to put the income generated at the Crystal Palace, some £186,000, to good use. This module will being by exploring the early actions of the Commission, which included the purchase of land to the south of Hyde Park for the establishment of the South Kensington Museum; the foundation of government schools to train new designers, scientists and artists; and the sale of the Exhibition building which, re-erected at Sydenham, subsequently became known as ‘The People’s Palace’ - part zoo, part theatre, part amusement arcade. Tracking the core themes of education and mass entertainment, we will consider the wider impact of the Great Exhibition post-1851, investigating its legacies including the generation of new manufacturing techniques, the production of new commodities and the creation of a heritage industry. Examining the short and long term impact of the Great Exhibition, where visits are possible in accordance with national guidelines, our sources will include objects on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) as well as the ‘Virtual Crystal Palace’ - an attempt to celebrate the legacy of ‘The People’s Palace’ at Sydenham.
An indicative list of seminar topics would include
- New acquisitions: purchasing for the nation at the Great Exhibition
- Foundations: Government Schools of art, design, history and science
- The making of the South Kensington Museum 1: dealers and the trade
- The making of the South Kensington Museum 2: collecting and curating
- Industry: working with the world in the wake of the Great Exhibition
- Entertainment for the masses: photography, stereoscopy and film
- The weird and the wonderful: the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, 1854 - 1936
- The past in the present: forging Britain's heritage
- Virtual impact: the Great Exhibition lives on
Learning and Teaching
Teaching and learning methods
Teaching methods include:
- short presentations by students
- group discussions including feedback from the tutor
- detailed reading and analysis of the module texts
Learning activities include:
- preparatory reading, individual research and study prior to each class
- preparing and delivering short presentations relating to specific aspects of the module
- studying textual and visual primary sources
- participation in group and class discussion
In this module learning and teaching activities focus on helping you to explore and investigate the ideas and themes outlined above. Throughout the module you will also engage in directed and self-directed study, for example through pre-seminar reading and through library research. The presentations (by you and your fellow students) and your reading will provide you with a broad overview of the secondary literature, using the bibliography provided at the start of the module. The discussion generated by these presentations will provide you with the opportunity to explore the relevant major historical debates on a weekly basis. In addition, you will study in depth a range of primary written and visual sources, as well as surviving material culture. These sessions will allow you to prepare for the essay and examination exercises. Feedback on your progress and development will be given via seminars and group discussions. Responses from tutor and your fellow students to your presentation will also give you formative feedback.
|Completion of assessment task||90|
|Preparation for scheduled sessions||90|
|Wider reading or practice||32|
|Total study time||300|
Resources & Reading list
Gere, Charlotte and Caroline Sargentson (2002). The Making of the South Kensington Museum. Journal of the History of Collections, 14(1).
Richards, Thomas (1991). The commodity culture of Victorian England: advertising and spectacle, 1851-1914. London: Verso.
Sparling, Tobin Andrews (1982). The Great Exhibition: a question of taste. New Haven: Yale Center for British Art.
Mandler, Peter (2006). Liberty and authority in Victorian Britain. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
Bennett, Tony and Patrick Joyce (eds) (2010). Material Powers: Cultural Studies, History and the Material Turn. Abingdon: Routledge.
Edensor, Tim (ed.) (2010). Spaces of vernacular creativity: rethinking the cultural economy. London: Taylor & Francis.
Hobhouse, Hermione (2002). The Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition : art, science and productive industry : a history of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851. London: Continuum.
Buzard, James (2007). Victorian prism: refractions of the Crystal Palace. Charlottesville; London: University of Virginia Press.
Jordanova, Ludmilla (2012). The Look of the Past: Visual and Material Evidence in Historical Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Miller, Daniel (2008). The Comfort of Things. Cambridge: Polity.
This is how we’ll formally assess what you have learned in this module.
This is how we’ll assess you if you don’t meet the criteria to pass this module.
An internal repeat is where you take all of your modules again, including any you passed. An external repeat is where you only re-take the modules you failed.
Repeat type: Internal & External