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Victorian Era (1837-1901) : Meridian School Research Guide: Getting started in the library


This is a library reseach aid for students enrolled in Meridian Victorian Era Research Class.

Search literature reference works for background information

Why use encyclopedias & other reference works?

Reference works like encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, and other collections of information are useful for quickly identifying key facts or researching background information about a particular event or person. Background reading in reference sources can help you:

  • understand historical or social context
  • gather statistics and other supporting data
  • brainstorm ways to narrow or broaden your research topic
  • identify additional sources of information

Reference works can be printed or in digital form. Our library's print Reference Collection is on the first floor. Print and digital reference works can be located by searching the Worldcat@SU online catalog or by browsing the library's website.


The Victorian Era (1837-1901)

The Victorian Era was in many ways like our own. It was the first age of consumerism, and the Industrial Revolution was the forerunner of the current Technological Revolution. New discoveries and inventions revolutionised manufacturing processes in the Victorian age. Railways and steamships made travel faster and cheaper, rapidly shrinking the world. Mass production and increased international trade made more and more products available and affordable.  And with the growth in industry and trade, the middle classes grew in number and wealth, and wanted to buy as much as possible of what was on offer.


Family of Queen Victoria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter

Yet while the Middle Classes prospered in the Victorian era, the working class did not.  Work in factories, sweat-shops and mines was dirty and dangerous; hours were long and poorly paid. Children had to work, in order for families to survive, and working conditions were often worse for children than they were for their parents. Towns and cities grew quickly to house the workers, but much of the housing was poor quality and overcrowded. Vast slum areas sprung up, putting pressures on water supplies and the disposal of waste. Coal fires and factories filled the air with smoke and other pollutants. The reaction to living conditions and the gap between the haves and have-nots generated rebellion and revolt in many parts of Europe, as people fought for basic human rights.

These first lines from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens are certainly amongst the best openings to a novel ever written. But not only do they set the tone and atmosphere of the book and give a flavor of what is to come, they also capture a taste of the challenges and uncertainties of the Victorian era.

 “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way...”

Nowhere were these contradictions in Society more obvious than in the Morality of the Victorians. They say the Victorians invented Childhood, treating the child as someone who needed to be protected and nurtured, and yet children as young as five were working in mines and factories, quite legally, during much of Queen Victoria’s long reign. Women too, in the middle-class household, were regarded almost as saints; “protected” from anything that might offend or morally corrupt. However, they were often little more than prisoners in their own homes, with few freedoms in terms of what they could own or how they could behave....

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Below are a few of the reference works that have entries relevant to your class. Look alphabetically or in the books' indexes for names of people or places, events, concepts, etc.  All the library's reference books are identified in Worldcat@SU; below is only a sampling.