Henry James, "London"
"There are at once too many books on London, and too few -- too many tourist guides, city biographies and suburban chronicles; too few studies of its politics, economy, society and government; and almost nothing which addresses the great metropolis directly, in its totality, as the world city."
David Cannadine, "London History"
"Monuments and Dust" names the work of an international group of scholars now assembling a complex visual, textual, and statistical representation of Victorian London--the largest city of the nineteenth-century world and its first urban metropolis. At the University of Virginia in the United States and at University College, London in the United Kingdom, the research group has two well-supported centers that serve as foci for the firmly bi-national initiative. At the time of this writing more than fifty researchers from the two countries have committed themselves to the project. They are linked both through their scholarly collaboration and through participation in annual conferences held alternately in Charlottesville, Virginia and London, England. Work of the first several years will culminate in a large-scale conference in London in 2001, the centenary of Queen Victoria's death and the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Subtitled "New Technologies and Sociologies of Research," the project seeks to extend both the terms and forms of the study of London, the dominant metropolis of the nineteenth century, a center of social and cultural meanings, and a resonant locus for interdisciplinary exchange. The large scale of the research endeavor will lead to the construction of an archive of primary materials--journalism, literary works, paintings, census data, maps, tracts, cartoons, sermons-- open to scholars and teachers in a wide range of disciplines, and at the same time it will be the occasion for ongoing electronic publication, essays and books linked to the repository of artifacts. From the beginning of 1999 both the archive and the scholarship will appear on the internet under the sponsorship of Cambridge University Press.
The archive encourages a four-dimensional study of the metropolis, attentive not only to social and cultural life as it extends through urban space, but also to the historical transformations during the long reign of Victoria. The collection of maps and views, the arrangement of statistical tables, and the recovery of texts and images from the beginning to the end of the period will permit researchers to create revealing temporal juxtapositions. Setting Henry Mayhew alongside Charles Booth; viewing the Coronation of Victoria against her two Jubilees; examining the Thames riverside before and after the great embankments; putting passages from Dickens in close comparative relation to passages from Margaret Harkness or Arthur Morrison; following the dramatic demographic changes at the parish level; studying the development of surface and underground transportation by searching through a library of engravings--such examples should indicate the opportunities for precise cultural historical inquiry.
The intensely collaborative nature of "Monuments and Dust" is not merely a product of the demands posed by the study of London, although that would be justification in itself. International collaboration is a goal in its own right. Just as information technology allows historical evidence to appear in newly perspicuous forms, so it can enrich styles of intellectual exchange and forms of academic community. While preserving such scholarly goods as book publication and personal encounter, the group takes the electronic medium to offer a flexible web of collaboration that could serve as one paradigm for the transforming university. Given both the international and interdisciplinary character of the initiative, we look to devise paradigms of cooperation that might serve as models for scholars from many other fields.
LONDON AS OBJECT OF STUDY
The invention of Victorian London was at once an irreducibly singular, unrepeatable historical event, and an immense test case, a vast repository of conditions that would be assembled in different cities around the world. As such, it remains centrally important to the study of many intersecting academic subjects, including the histories of literature, journalism, architecture, and painting; the study of colonialism and empire; the analysis of modern urban space; and the sociology of mass culture. "Monuments and Dust" seeks to create a major scholarly resource, stimulating advances in research and teaching across the boundaries of disciplines and the borders of countries.
The struggle to represent nineteenth-century London began within the period itself, when government officials, journalists, novelists, painters, architects, street musicians and others tried to formulate an intelligible portrait of a city that was both a difficult abstraction--the idea of the modern metropolis--and a disorienting theater of everyday life. Twentieth-century scholarship has also struggled with this problem: how to capture London's rapid and far-reaching transformation as its population doubles and doubles again; as the railway boom displaces entire neighborhoods; as speculation in middle-class housing turns marshland into streets and squares; as starving Irish swarm into lodging houses, twenty to a room; as underground trains and sewer systems grow into a city beneath the surface. Intellectual collaboration on a grand scale and the resources of computer technology offer a means and a medium for recovering these upheavals in unprecedented ways.
Within the self-reinventing self-describing nineteenth-century city, two impulses immediately stand out and compete: the first, to evoke the city as a scene of monumentality--monumental buildings, statues, streets and parks, and equally monumental individuals and events, from the Queen to the construction of the Crystal Palace--and the second, to portray the city in terms of the ephemera, the urban dust, so often unnoticed, forgotten or repressed: the courts and alleys which gentility never saw; the ephemeral culture of ballads and broadsheets; the labor of the small clerks, the costermongers, the chimney sweeps, the prostitutes. The monuments and the dust mark the boundaries of the urban world and the outer frame of our research program. The heterogeneity of nineteenth-century London demands a flexible methodology that will avoid the temptations of reduction, and accordingly, members of the research group will follow diverse paths of inquiry. In the first phase, the division of emphasis is as follows:
Each of these areas is already superintended by one of our fifty Special Editors or by a team of Editors, but our guiding premises is that materials developed through one line of research will have direct bearing on another, and that through the resources of information technology, particular items--images, texts, data, maps--will be brought into unanticipated relationships.
The field-opening work in urban studies conducted by H.J. Dyos and Anthony Wohl, the more recent achievements of such historians and literary scholars as Deborah Nord, Roy Porter, Mary Poovey, and Judith Walkowitz, the bibliographic contributions of Heather Creaton, the computer demographics of Michael Anderson, these contributions have not only prepared for a next phase in research, but in their very achievement, they have indicated the need for new research tools. The electronic representation of Victorian London, made possible because of work both in traditional text-based research and in information technology, can recover artifacts and data to an extent unimaginable in other media, and still more important, it can produce a synchronous representation of text, image, and statistics. Far from standing as rivals to the Book, these techniques will lead to new books, and indeed "Monuments and Dust" includes plans for several publications in hard copy.
A working assumption of the project is that contemporary acts of representation are not only possible because of our technical resources, but also because London itself employed information technology avant la lettre. In 1851 the first modern census was taken in the United Kingdom; it asked questions about occupation, religion, education, and family structure; both in its data and in its interpretations the census is an inexhaustible resource for the study of London.. During that same year the Great Exhibition was held in Hyde Park. From the path-breaking architecture of the Crystal Palace to the management of the large crowds, the Exhibition marked a decisive moment in the history of urban culture. Equally decisive was the attempt to devise a system of categories for the thousands of exhibited artifacts, resulting in the celebrated Official Catalogue, a thesaurus of modern commodities, materials, and machines, performing for the inanimate world the same informational labor that the census performed for human beings. Finally, beginning before these events and continuing past them, Henry Mayhew undertook his vast study of London labor and the London poor. If the Great Exhibition is the emblem of monumental London, Mayhew's book is the unsurpassed chronicle of urban dust, the lost lives, lost objects, unknown streets, unimaginable misery.
Visually replete, statistically rich, and textually prolific--these phrases can serve as one motto for the project. So much writing on urban culture has invoked a precise topography of the built environment, a geography of streets and squares, parks and monuments, courts and alleys, public buildings and private dwellings. Yet, for reasons of costs among others, little is more striking than the failure of urban studies to recreate images of the world that it strains to describe. What makes this unfortunate is that the effort to see London was one of the great vocations of the period, and fundamental to the construction of a collective self-portrait of modern urbanity. The Illustrated London News and The Graphic generated a constant stream of imagery. The vogue for balloon views of the city yielded the popular map, "A Balloon View of London," one among the rapidly proliferating number of maps. With the advent of photography a new impetus was given to the rage for visualization. In the 1870s Gustave Doré engraved his famous series of plates as part of the highly successful publishing enterprise with Blanchard Jerrold, London: A Pilgrimage. Throughout the period, the cartoons of Punch offered a running satiric commentary on London culture. Such imagery (and more) can now be gathered, organized and compared. With current scanning techniques and sufficient storage capacity, little stands between us and the visual reanimation of nineteenth-century London.
An early task will be to work toward the virtual reconstruction of the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace. Frequently called the greatest public spectacle of the nineteenth century, it was recorded in abundant detail, but that abundance has remained dispersed and incoherent. No book could possibly contain it. But through the digitizing of information found in official and unofficial catalogues, in newspapers and magazines, and in private photographic collections, researchers at Virginia have now collected hundreds of representations-- drawings, photographs, and technical descriptions--of both the Exhibition's artifacts and its visitors.
Ralph Hyde, a preeminent expert on London topography, is both a member of the Advisory Board and Special Editor for mapping. A second immediate goal is to produce a large collection of scanned maps and a series of digitized maps of the metropolis--both at the level of registration districts and at the level of the parish. Through the assistance of the Great Britain Historical database at Queen Mary and Westfield College, we now have access to a variety of important statistical tables, containing data on population, employment, mortality, marriage and the poor law. Over the first year of work this statistical base will have extended even more widely to include data pertaining to elections, theatrical audiences, charitable assistance, disease, education, and religious affiliation. To have digitized maps of London linked to such data is to make available another approach--statistically rich, rather than visually replete--toward the task of seeing and representing London. The aim is to make possible original and sophisticated queries of the data that will appear on the screen iconically, revealing, for instance, population shifts in Chelsea and Westminster in relation to religious affiliation and mean household size.
The third leg of the triad will be textual, including full-text documents such as newspaper and journal articles, as well as thousands of smaller textual pieces (diaries, letters, novels, parliamentary debates, etc). Mayhew's London Labour and the Labouring Poor (1851-62) will give one major focus. Mayhew's work is widely considered an indispensable source, but its forbidding size has made it a clumsy instrument for researchers. So many streets are named, so many occupations listed, so many wages counted, so many foods and songs and commodities named, that no reader has been able to keep a coherent grip on the quantity of detail. Yet once it has been conceptually sorted and fully tagged, it will at last be possible to organize the detail and to turn it to the service of particular interpretations: studies of street trade in Covent Garden, or the ballad industry in Seven Dials, or the Irish in Holborn, or the population of lodging-houses, or theaters in the East End.
In addition to Mayhew, early textual contributions will include work from Edwin Chadwick, Charles Dickens, Arthur Morrison; from the poets of London; and from a wide range of newspapers and journals. Sermons, parliamentary reports, playbills, broadsides and street ballads will be represented, as will such sensational journalistic pieces as "The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon" and "The Bitter Cry of Outcast London."
The three areas--the visual, the statistical and the textual--have been described separately, but our chief goal is to bring them into immediately productive relationship. The display of the archive will include articulated screens allowing users to compare images, texts and data, holding one set steady while others move, so that, for instance, Doré's famous image of Fleet Street can be set against a long succession of newspaper accounts, fictional representations, official plans for urban renewal, etc., even as the viewer scans through scores of descriptions of life on that street. Or the user would be able to move through visual representations of a neighborhood such as Camberwell changing over time, while the census figures capture the demographic correlates to the transformation in the built environment. Alternatively, one might concentrate on one analytic dimension independent of others, in order, say, to initiate a comparison of the visible Londons of Cruikshank, Doyle and Thomson, or to scan through hundreds of textual responses to an event like the Jubilee. Each item deposited in the archive will be classified according to a flexible system of searchable categories, falling within broad headings as Street, Parish, Event, Scene, Profession, Person. The effect will be to allow highly specific searches through thousands of items, permitting entrance to the city through many different gates.
The administrative core of the project lies in the relationship between the two scholarly communities represented by the Project Directors, who are in close, often daily, contact. The deposits of material and the distribution of scholarly expertise require participation on both sides of the Atlantic. In assembling the working editorial group, the directors have followed the principle that at every stage the research will require cooperative research in the United States and Britain. London is both the object of study and the site of archival treasures, while the United States contains many leading scholars and also indispensable collections at such sites as the Lilly Library, the Ransom Center, and the Library of Congress.
Apart from the central relationship between the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities and the English Department at University College, University of London, the project has a partnership with the Guildhall Library in London, which contains the most extensive holdings in nineteenth-century metropolitan history. The Library has agreed to make its abundant holdings available to "Monuments and Dust." Visiting Special Editors will be able to make slides, photographs and copies without incurring the usual charges. Even more significantly, our project will be able to share the electronic resources that the Library has independently begun to digitize. Under the name "Collage" thirty-one thousand images have been prepared, many thousands of which represent unique representations (especially prints, views and panoramas) of Victorian London. In the spirit of our partnership, the Guildhall will allow us to bring its immense holdings within our archival canopy, so that users of "Monuments and Dust" will be able to generate searches yielding artifacts deposited not only by our Special Editors but also by the research staff of the Library.
The Great British Historical Database (GBDH), a project located at Queen Mary Westfield College in London, is well advanced on a parish-level historical atlas of Britain. Humphrey Southall, director of GBHD, has visited Charlottesville in order to discuss how his work might bear on ours. He has generously shared his nineteenth-century statistics with us, giving us a complete electronic set of the London census data from 1821-1901.
Cambridge University Press has offered to sponsor the worldwide web version of "Monuments and Dust" and also to explore forms of publication on CD-rom.
ORIGINS OF THE PROJECT
The project had its beginnings in a summer seminar led by Michael Levenson in London during the summer of 1995, sponsored by NEH. The solidarity of that group established a foundation for ongoing conversation on the study of London and the conditions for academic collaboration. Members of the seminar held several sessions at conventions of the Modern Language Association and at the Mid-Atlantic British Studies Conference. Through conversations with Victorianists in the United States and Britain, the group developed ideas for a far more extensive research collaboration linked to the new technologies.
In the summer of 1997, Professor David Trotter, incoming chair of the English Department at University College, London, joined the initiative as co-Project Director and began to build British participation in what we now called "Monuments and Dust." Levenson and Trotter met frequently, corresponded actively, and laid the foundations for the bi-national partnership.
In the academic year 1997-98 Michael Levenson was a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH), where he took the first steps toward building "Monuments and Dust." An administrative structure was established, a website constructed, and an automated system for receiving and cataloguing contributions devised. The initial contributions began to arrive in the fall of 1997, and at the first annual conference in the spring of 1998 twenty-five participants, including David Trotter, convened to plan the future of the collaboration.
In Britain during this same year, David Trotter secured the participation of Asa Briggs, Geoffrey Crossick, Martin Daunton, Ralph Hyde and Roy Porter on the advisory board. Most recently, he has entered correspondence with David Cannadine, incoming director of the Institute for Historical Research, who has invited our group to hold its next conference at the Institute and has suggested discussions on how the Institute might play a wider role in "Monuments and Dust." Concurrent with this application to the National Endowment, David Trotter is applying to the Humanities Research Board that will permit two full-time researchers to gather and to digitize materials for the archive.
Michael Levenson, Professor of English at the University of Virginia, has lectured and published widely on London-centered subjects. His most recent book, The Spectacle of Intimacy: Victorian Family Life on the Public Stage (co-author Karen Chase) is a study of private life within the metropolitan setting. He has held two fellowships in technology and the humanities and has led a NEH summer seminar in London. Professor Levenson has been awarded a year of research at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, and his intention is to arrange for it to coincide with the second year of the proposed grant period. Collaborative research has become a leading goal for the Center; the year of research leave will free valuable time for the project.
David Trotter, Quain Professor at University College, University of London, has just finished his study of social disorder, called Cooking with Mud, and is currently serving as chair of the English Department. His work has involved extensive research in the Chadwick archive: in his role as a Special Editor in "Monuments and Dust" Chadwick is his chosen subject. Under the terms of the proposal with the Humanities Research Board, he would supervise the staff at the London research center and will maintain relations with our institutional partners in London. In the division of responsibilities between the two Project Directors, it will fall to Michael Levenson to maintain relations with the technical staff based at IATH. David Trotter will organize the relationships with the various London-based archives, libraries, and educational institutions associated with our work.
The Advisory Board
Members of the Advisory Board will offer evaluations linked to the annual summer conferences, where they will also be invited to make presentations of their own. Such papers would become part of the online publications of "Monuments and Dust." Already members of the Board have suggested additional areas of research and have suggested new contributors to the collaboration.
Below, listed by institution (where appropriate) and editorial responsibility, are the contributors so far enlisted in "Monuments and Dust." As large as the group is, we recognize that there remain gaps to fill in areas such as Journalism and Metropolitan Politics. (The heading "Dickens and London" indicates a contributor to the volume to be edited by Murray Baumgarten.)
The materials for "Monuments and Dust" include text, image, tabular data, and maps: this diversity offers both our greatest technical challenge and our greatest scholarly opportunity. During the past five months a first set of artifacts has been submitted through a contributions page found on the worldwide web. Contributors must produce full bibliographic identification of their objects; each item is then described through a system of descriptive categories, including "event," "scene," "parish," "person," "class," "profession," "building type," "nationality," etc. While it will be possible to search through the entire archive by strings of text, these descriptive categories will offer a perspicuous way of negotiating the urban field.
In subtitling the project, "New Technologies and Sociologies of Research," we acknowledge the need to organize both individuals and materials, to maintain the integrity of the research team and the coherence of their contributions. Through the document management system Astoria, IATH is developing a web-based instrument for dating, naming, and sorting materials; contributions will be checked in and out with a time stamp; editors will be able to retrieve artifacts for correction or amplification; they will also be able to exchange objects as part of their editorial supervision. Such devices have been prohibitively expensive for academic initiatives in the humanities. As far we know, this will be the first time that such a powerful system of management and editorial control will be applied to academic purposes.
Texts are being scored in SGML, permitting not only the perspicuous description of textual objects as a whole, but also enabling the Special Editors to enhance a powerful system of cross-references on which the archive depends. In accumulating objects for their own sub-archive, members of our group have often been discovering embedded references that make a part of the artifact relevant to another sub-archive. Within a given text that will receive an articulate global description (such as "medicine," "1833" "The Lancet," "surgery," "Guy's Hospital"), there will also be an opportunity to tag portions of the text that link it to other sub-archives (such as "Sanitary Reform," "Chadwick" or "Dickens"). In this way the act of collaboration will be performed down to the level of paragraphs.
The Geographic Information System will be provided by the Great British Historical Database located at Queen Mary Westfield College in London. It will allow "Monuments and Dust" to link illustrative statistics to individual parishes and registration districts and to construct heuristic maps of London, showing the distribution of mortality, age, etc.
Patrick Yott of the Social Sciences Data Center at the University of Virginia has already begun preparing a first trawl of census figures from the Great British Historical Database. Users can now put sophisticated queries to the numbers, generating graphs organized by parish and registration district and also graphing time sequences for each geographic/administration unit.
Christopher Jesse of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities is superintending work on the virtual reconstruction of the Crystal Palace developed from engineering plans. Already one outer wing of the building can be approached, 'walked around,' and inspected at close range: the smallest architectural features (the shape of a window pane, the turn of a corner) are open to view. As this time-consuming work proceeds, the "Virtual Palace" will be populated with hundreds of objects from the Great Exhibition of 1851 and will be linked to the Official Catalogue, to newspaper reports of the Exhibition, to memoirs, journals, and popular illustrations.
"Monuments and Dust" is committed to accommodating a range of methodological emphases within its wide scope. Art historians may favor comparative analyses of the visual artifacts; urban historians may want to use the topographical resources to study building types and transport patterns; a literary scholar may prefer to concentrate on the study of prose style in fiction and journalism. The aim is to allow researchers and groups of researchers to make individual methodological decisions and to achieve a rigorous focus within their own domain. We seek a representation of the material large and flexible enough to encompass many disciplines and perspectives. At the same time, we are keenly interested in intellectual exchange among our different research constituencies. As our first conference showed, many members of the group see this initiative as a chance to reconsider the relationships between cultural, literary and urban history. Even cursory engagement with the archive creates surprising collocations of material and stimulates the discovery of original terms of description. Apart from the desire to illuminate nineteenth-century London, we aim to encourage new encounters among disciplines that will lead to methodological innovation.
The next two years will see the construction of independent sub-archives by Special Editors, each a research instrument in its own right, and the creation of several substantial areas (the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace, Sanitary Reform, the Children of London, the works of Henry Mayhew, the online book about Dickens and London, the Geographical Information System representation of the metropolis as linked to diverse statistics) which cut across disciplines and the more defined regions of emphasis. With these bodies of achievement "Monuments and Dust" will stand as a resource for those working in many fields.
The archive, both primary materials and scholarly interpretations, will be freely available on the Worldwide Web. Cambridge University Press has also put forth the idea of independent annual publications on CD-Rom, where selected materials from the archive would be gathered in a format allowing quick and focussed concentration on a defined body of material. The Press has proposed Mayhew and the 1851 census as one publication, the Great Exhibition as another.
In all its publication ambitions, "Monuments and Dust" will work on the borderlands between the traditional medium of scholarly publication and more recent forms of research inquiry. Not only will more electronic information flow from the initiative; more books will be published. In cooperation with the large team of collaborators we have begun moving toward several published volumes. There will be a collection of essays edited by the project directors. There will be individual books on sanitary reform, on London childhood, on Victorian sound and the metropolitan underworld. Murray Baumgarten will edit a collection on Dickens and London, including contributions by Joss Marsh on "Dickens, the Docks, and the City"; John Jordan on "London Arrival Scenes in Dickens"; Tatiana Holoway on "Dickens, London, & the Crystal Palace"; Troy Boone on "Photographic Man: Working Class Adaptations of London Life"; Matthew Titolo on "London Pastoral & Victorian Urban Theory"; Albert Hutter on "Inspector Field and the Policing of London"; Sara Hackenberg on "Dandy & Flaneur in Our Mutual Friend". This Dickens book will appear both online and in hard copy, in this way meeting our desire to explore relations between book and electronic publications. After each of our conferences, selected proceedings will be published online: like the Dickens book, the essays will each be linked to materials (articles, photographs, maps) within the larger archive.