Victorian Blogging – The Pamphleteers Who Dared to Dream of a Better World

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Today, Conway Hall in Red Lion Square, Bloomsbury, has received £88,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for an exciting project, Victorian Blogging – The Pamphleteers Who Dared to Dream of a Better World. Made possible by money raised by National Lottery players, the project will digitise and open online access to over 1300 19th century pamphlets, many extremely rare. Victorian radicals used this cheap and rapidly disseminated medium to express their ideas on contemporary ‘hot’ issues such as freethought, secularism, gender and political suffrage and what we now know as humanism.

Many of the issues addressed are still highly relevant today. The project will explore parallels between 19th century pamphleteering and 21st century blogging, and encourage people to re-engage with these issues. 2018 sees anniversaries of key milestones in the extension of the franchise, human rights and freedom of thought – the Representation of the People Act 1918, which opened voting in national elections to all men and some women, the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, urging respect for human, civil, economic and social rights, including freedom of expression and belief, and the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 which finally saw success for the campaign to de-criminalise blasphemy in the UK.

The project will create exhibitions and online and print learning resources bringing to life the campaigners, such as Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh, who fought for a more equal and better world. Local people will be able to hear talks and take part in a course, including historical walking tours as well as classroom based learning, to suit a variety of learning styles.

Volunteers will learn skills through cataloguing, researching, blogging and creating exhibitions. In community Wikipedia edit-a-thons volunteer researchers and writers will create and edit pages relating to the people, places and movements in the pamphlet collection.

Workshops with school partners will enable students, through blogging, to acquire the skills to become citizen journalists. Beyond this we will link with bloggers on similar themes, networked by the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s ‘Freedom of Thought Report’.

Jim Walsh, Conway Hall’s CEO says, ‘The struggles for gender equality, human rights and freethought are present throughout our pamphlet collection and 2017 has demonstrated vividly that they haven’t gone away. Conway Hall has a tremendous heritage as a centre for people wrestling with these issues. The core aim will be to link past and present to continue the project of ‘daring to dream of a better world’.’

Stuart Hobley, Head of HLF London, said: “Ever wondered what Victorian era social media would look like? Without the wonders of Twitter and Facebook, the humble pamphlet was crucial to sharing information, radical ideas, political debate and yes, even pictures of cats. As community life quickly changed, pamphlets became the blogs of their day; I am delighted that money from National Lottery players will support digitisation and public access, bringing this wonderful collection to life once more”.