In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Technology

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Reference Works
  • Research Societies and Journals
  • Bibliographies
  • Anthologies
  • Edited Collections
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Labor and Class
  • Colonialism and Technology Transfer
  • Spirituality and Religion
  • Art and Aesthetics
  • Intellectual Property
  • Civil Engineering
  • Electric
  • Sound
  • Information
  • Medical
  • Military
  • Agricultural

Victorian Literature Technology
Tamara Ketabgian
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 March 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0074


The Victorian era was a remarkably fertile period for the adoption, expansion, and transformation of technology. Photography, telegraphy, telephony, steamships, railways, electric lighting, and industrial control engineering are only a few of the many complex systems and processes developed during the era. While this technical ferment defies easy classification, historians have traditionally placed it in the overlap between the first and second Industrial Revolutions, defined respectively by the growth of steam power in the late 18th century and by emerging electrical and communications technology in the later 19th century. In recent decades, however, many critics have proposed multiple histories of Victorian technology that challenge triumphalist accounts of inevitable progress and modernization. These new approaches focus on forgotten innovations and on different models of cultural influence and transformation, based on reciprocal relations among science, technology, art, literature, and popular discourse. Moreover, the current Information Revolution has also prompted renewed attention to 19th-century media and information technology, sometimes through postmodern fantasies of alternate (or “neo-Victorian”) history. As these new approaches show, technology inspired and provoked Victorians both as a material reality and as a literary and cultural symbol. It provided artists and writers with absorbing models for narrative form, visual perception, human relations, spirituality, and scientific objectivity. At the same time, it fuelled energetic debate surrounding its role in culture, labor, aesthetics, labor, psychology, sexuality, and the natural world. This entry concentrates on technology in both Victorian literature and history, as a form of scientific practice supported through mechanical and artifactual systems, processes, and relations. Major forms of technology treated here include industrial, transport, engineering, electric, communication, visual, sound, military, medical, agricultural, and information, although considerable overlap exists among these categories.

General Overviews

These overviews of Victorian technology fall into two categories: historical approaches and literary approaches, which treat technology more explicitly in relation to language, literary works, and cultural representation.

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