I spoke to Tomi Oladepo, who runs the brilliant Digital Media Culture blog, about what digital media means to me as an academic. We talked particularly about the changing culture of academic digital media usage over the past few years, the context of public engagement, and where digital media seems to be going. It was a very thought-provoking discussion for me – thanks to Tomi for featuring me on the blog.
This week I’ve been finishing an essay on Dickens 2012 and ‘locating the Victorians in the bicentenary year’; although I’ve written and spoken about this work quite a few times now (including an essay in this forthcoming book), this piece has given me the opportunity to focus on more detailed analysis of content included in Dickens apps, maps, podcasts and films. It’s led me to discover some great resources on the theme of Dickens and London, so I thought I’d collect these together into a blog post with a brief review of each.
Apps and audio podcasts
- The Guardian audio walks; this five-part series of walks around Dickens’s London, Rochester and Portsmouth by The Guardian are excellent: informative, engaging, and lively discussion, interspersed with readings from the text. In 2012 I tried out two of the walks – The Heart of the City and David Copperfield – and wrote about them for JVC Online.
- Dickens in Southwark; I haven’t had the chance to do these walks myself, but I’ve been greatly impressed just using the app and listening to the audio of this walk. The core content is lively and informative, while there is extra audio on the map that was developed from a creative project involving Southwark residents. The app is easily navigable, has a well-functioning map, and with a total of 25 ‘stops’ there is lots of content to explore.
- Dickens Trail, Charles Dickens Museum; this app uses Dickens’s characters as a guide to his London locations, with four themed walks following Magwitch, Lady Dedlock, the Artful Dodger, and Samuel Pickwick. The real shame of this app is that there is no audio content, only text on a map, which makes for a much less engaging experience.
- Dickens Dark London; this was one of the first Dickens apps that I came across and reviewed, a little harshly perhaps. The idea of the content is nice, with illustrations accompanying a reading of extracts from Dickens’s works, themed around his night walks, but it’s a shame there is so little free content – only one serial installment is provided and the rest are priced at £1.49 each. The best thing about this app is its map feature, which combines an 1862 map with a map of contemporary London, and allows you to scroll between each or view a composite image of the two – great for easily viewing structural changes to the city.
- Celebrating Dickens; the University of Warwick’s Dickens offering includes a wealth of material from researchers and students at the University of Warwick on many aspects of Dickens’s life and writing, and the app features a navigable map of Dickens locations not just in London but also in East Anglia, Kent and the Midlands. Highly recommended, of course!
- “The Houseless Shadow“; directed by William Raban, this is a short version of the full film installation that was commissioned by the Museum of London for their Dickens and London exhibition. The piece uses a reading from Dickens’s essay “The Night Walks” with images of the contemporary city. Raban discusses the aims behind the piece in this conversation recorded at the BFI.
- The Uncommercial Traveller; this project by the British Council created a series of theatrical audio guides to Penang, Melbourne, Singapore and Karachi. The audio aims at creating a really evocative experience of each city and makes for interesting listening even if you aren’t in the relevant city.
- Sketches by Boz: Sketching the City; another British Council project that developed written and artistic creative responses to cities around the world through a Dickensian lens
- Dickens and London film; the British Council produced a collection of teaching resources on Dickens 2012 and I particularly enjoyed this short piece on Dickens and London
One final book review to finish off the year, and it’s of Churnjeet Mahn’s British Women’s Travel to Greece, 1840-1914: Travels in the Palimpsest on the FWSA blog.
Over on the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association blog I’ve reviewed Judith Johnston’s Victorian Women and the Economies of Travel, Translation and Culture, 1830-1870.
The Feminist and Women’s Studies Association blog recently started an exciting series on historical groundbreaking women, showcasing the life and work of some fascinating and lesser-known figures, and I’m very pleased to have contributed a post on George Eliot. Although Eliot is well known, I’ve tried to offer some thoughts on the complexities of her ‘groundbreaking’ life and work, and to draw out some smaller examples from her fiction that might not be so widely recognised.
And if you haven’t done so already, do go and check out the rest of the series, and indeed the whole blog which is full of excellent feminist content!
Following my previous post about the Rethinking the 19th Century conference at Sheffield in August, I’ve written a follow-up piece about the use of Victorian/19th century for the Journal of Victorian Culture online.
Also, all of my JVC online pieces are collected here and updated with my latest piece every month or so.
Yes, it really has been one year today since the start of the bicentenary of Charles Dickens – and no, I’m not about to suggest that we start another year of celebrations… I did want to take the opportunity to reflect, though, on some of the issues that have been raised over the last year, both in the content of the celebrations themselves and in the wider context of the year as a whole.
As has been clear in my previous Dickens 2012 posts, one element that has particularly interested me is the emphasis on Dickens and place, and especially Dickens and London, that has been present in many of the bicentenary activities: a whole host of different ways of connecting Dickens and London, from tours that root (/route) Dickens firmly in the material landscape of the city, to digital media forms that offer truly mobile yet completely dis/non-placed experiences of “Dickens’s London” across the globe. I’m really interested in thinking further about the what and why of these forms, particularly in terms of issues around nation that I’ve raised before, but also with regards to ideas of impact: why this emphasis on place and what does it tell us about the types of cultural activities that we value? What impact has this had on the public understanding of Dickens?
There are wider questions too about the impact of Dickens 2012 and how this has shaped the cultural imagination of Dickens. Was it too much and are we all just suffering from Dickens fatigue now? Is there the possibility that Dickens overkill has had a negative or detrimental effect? And at what cost the over-investment in Dickens 2012? Dickens didn’t need putting on the map, and a whole host of other writers have been dwarfed in his shadow this year, not least those whose bicentenaries also marked significant moments for Victorian studies.
But there is one thing that I think Dickens 2012 offers to scholars of other writers, and that’s a legacy of how we “do” bicentenaries. Dickens 2012 has been marked not just be quantity, but also by the quality and sheer variety of forms through which we’ve been able to engage with Dickens’s life and works: a whole host of innovative, engaging and insightful documentaries, podcasts, lectures, talks, digital media, mobile apps, maps, have really expanded the possibilities – and I think there’s something about the collective proliferation of the focus on Dickens that has been particularly interesting and indicative. It’s not just public engagement either, and within academia we’ve seen discussions of research take on exciting new forms, from the 4-day travelling conference that gestured towards the internationalism of Dickens’s works and Dickens scholarship, to the Dickens’s World online conference that went a step further in enabling a truly global discourse of Dickens to emerge. We can but take from this the potential and possibility for other writers too, and use Dickens 2012 as a model for future bicentenaries.
I think, too, Dickens 2012 has opened up the potential for new lines of inquiry between critical and cultural debate: the year has provided a wealth of material for thinking about “the idea of Dickens” as a collective form. As I’ve gestured towards in this and other blog posts, and am seeking to do in my new research, Dickens 2012 has shown how public engagement is not just useful for the communication of research but might also be taken as an indicative source of analysis – and not just at its most obvious level in terms of reading contemporary culture, but also by using this understanding of our own times to open up new ways of interrogating facets of the Victorian period.
A year ago I posed the question “so now what?” After Dickens 2012, what’s next; Bronte 2016? Dickens 2012 has continued to open up more questions than answers, but I think it is clear that the time is now to start reflecting on what the year has given us, what ideas it has produced and developed, as well as to seize new possibilities for the future celebrations of other authors. At 201 Dickens might feel like especially well-trodden ground, but the space remains for mapping new movements and forging new directions in our interactions with the Victorian past.