Spring 2019

Bad Research and the Victorian Novel

, 4 pts, UN3254


Today we tend to think of research--the stuff of labs, libraries, and data--as something quite separate from what a novel is or does. But during the mid-to late nineteenth century, the concept of research loomed large over the period's signature literary form. Novelists, as well as investigative journalists and scientists, sought new techniques to gather the phenomena of the external world into prose: they conducted fieldwork, kept writer's journals, consulted libraries and record offices, and experimented with the print infrastructures for producing, consuming, and circulating knowledge. Taking "research" and "the novel" as our organizing principles, this course will examine how new conceptions of knowledge––imagined as storable, exchangeable, sortable, and concealable––shaped the narrative forms of British fiction during the 1830s-1900s as writer sought ways to narrate the period's increasingly expansive scales of social and scientific inquiry. We'll focus on the particular kinds of research that fascinated Victorian novelists––"bad," deviant, minor, pathological, everyday––and the relation of this research to the construction of evidence, the scientific self, labor, and gender as social, historic, and economic processes. Over the course of the semester, we will consider how the conceptual crises and contradictions in the production of knowledge spurred on literary forms (blackmail plots, "omniscient" narrators, melodrama, realism), and how novelists conceptualized their own work as research (in the form of notebooks, personal archives, fieldwork), as we read fiction by Brontë, Gaskell, Dickens, Eliot, Stevenson, social theory by foundational thinkers of the nineteenth-century (Marx, Simmel, Martineau) and our own (Foucault, Barthes, Said, Steedman). As a part of the course, we will also extend the conceptual questions raised by research to our own work, as we explore a range of scholarly tools and methods––from special collections archives to digital databases–in reflecting on the practices and infrastructures of research. 

Section Number
Call Number
Day, Time & Location
M 12:10PM-2:00PM 467 EXT Schermerhorn Hall [SCH]
Sierra C Eckert