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

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End Date: 30th November 2019
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‘A library is the delivery room for the birth of ideas, a place where history comes to life.’ —Norman Cousins

Thanks to £88,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Conway Hall is embarking on an eighteen month project, Victorian Blogging—The Pamphleteers Who Dared to Dream of a Better World. This page will tell you about the project and keep you updated on it’s progress.

View the digitised pamphlets here
View project learning resources here

Conway Hall Library and Archives dates back to 1886 when members of the Society proposed that a library be instated and the first donations were requested from the membership. Beginning as a general lending library offering a wide-ranging collection of diverse subjects to suit the needs of the membership at a time when public libraries were scarce, the library has since evolved and grown to become the UK’s only specialist humanist library. Along the way we have acquired the libraries of the Rationalist Press Association, the Stanton Coit Library, and the National Secular Society’s Library and Archives. Our collection can be seen as a history of nineteenth and twentieth-century enlightened individuals and organisations who endeavoured to better understand the world around them and in doing so agitated for a fairer and more equal society.

A notable area of our collection is the nineteenth century pamphlets we house — these insubstantial, fragile ephemera provide a record of the enlightened individuals, organisations and movements of nineteenth century Britain, the political and social causes they championed and the ideals they held. Victorian radicals used the cheap and rapidly disseminated medium of the pamphlet to express their ideas on such myriad issues as Church and secularist matters, parliamentary reform, blasphemy laws, freedom of the press, women’s rights, suffrage, The Irish question, The Corn Laws, birth control, vivisection, socialism, vegetarianism (to name but a few). These topics show just how far-reaching the views and attitudes of the Victorian activists were, giving an insight into the controversies, debates and political movements in which they were involved.

Our project will explore many of these topics by looking at specific movements and organisations as well as particular individuals. These will include organisations such as the National Secular Society, The Fabian Society and our own South Place (now Conway Hall) Ethical Society and such agitators as Annie Besant, Charles Bradlaugh, Richard Carlile, Ernestine Rose, Ann Lee and Moncure Conway.

Many of the issues addressed remain highly relevant today and one of the aims of this project will be to explore the parallels between nineteenth-century pamphleteering and twenty-first century blogging, encouraging people to re-engage with these issues.

Over the course of our project we will:

– put our pamphlets’ online in order that researchers, students and the public can have free access to them.

– curate physical and online exhibitions and learning resources to help tell the story of pamphleteering and provide context around the political and social situation of Victorian Britain to help unravel the multitude of themes, concepts and beliefs that the collection covers.

– work with the International Humanist and Ethical Union and the Centre for Investigative Journalism to create a rich resource for schools and community groups to bring out the contemporary relevance of these pamphleteers.

– highlight the pamphlets’ contemporary relevance by showing the parallels to twenty-first century political and social bloggers and citizen journalists.

– put on a series of talks, adult education courses and Wikipedia editathons inspired by our pamphlet collection, to help the public engage with the people, movements and stories in  multiple ways.

You will be able to keep up-to-date with the progress of our project as well as keep an eye out for upcoming events by signing up to Conway Hall’s newsletter. We will be posting regular blog posts, Facebook updates and articles, all of which you will be able to access from this page.


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