Victorian Studies Network at York hosts first symposium on Friday

The newly created Victorian Studies Network at York (VSNY) is hosting its first symposium this week looking at everything from art criticism to 19th-century Gothic parody to the difficulties of unearthing essential bits of information, such as the identity of John Henry Cardinal Newman’s girlfriend.

No one, it seems, wants to talk about her, says York English Professor Lesley Higgins. But that won’t stop Higgins from revealing what she’s unearthed so far about the elusive woman on Friday, Oct. 17 at VSNY’s inaugural interdisciplinary symposium Victorian Research Possibilities. The symposium will run from 10am to 3:15pm, at Norman’s, 203 Bethune College, Keele campus.

Left: John Henry Cardinal Newman

Faculty and students from all departments are invited to hear and discuss six talks about the scope of research pursued in a variety of Victorian fields and to meet fellow Victorianists from visual arts, English, geography, history, humanities, philosophy, political science, music and science & technology. Lunch and refreshments will be provided.

“The network is designed to introduce faculty and students from different departments and to encourage interdisciplinary research by sharing the wide range of cross-campus expertise,” says York English Professor David Latham, editor of The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies.

It really is a way to get faculty and students across departments talking about their respective research so everyone can benefit, says York English Professor Tina Choi, who is also appointed to the Graduate Program in Science & Technology Studies. “It’s hard to find out about the work your colleagues are doing here that may be really important for your own research. So we wanted to carve out a space for that to happen.”

Choi hopes the network will energize people in their own research, but that it will also shine a light on York as a vibrant place to be doing research in the field of Victorian studies. “People from departments I never would have thought of are involved in Victorian research,” says Choi. “It’s really far-reaching.”

Victorian studies can include researching the history of modern computing, whose origins can be traced back to the 1830s, or the history of geology, anthropology and mathematics.

“With the vast Victorian collections at the Scott Library and the valuable Victorian archives at Stong College, with scholarly journals like ISIS and The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies edited at York,” says Latham, “and with multi-volume projects like the collected works of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins and the collected correspondence of scientist John Tyndall undertaken at York, the network is showcasing York as a centre of excellence in Victorian studies that will continue to grow by facilitating connections among faculty and students.”

Higgins says there has been a paradigm shift in Victorian studies. “Nowadays you’re just as likely to have to know about science during the 19th century as literature or art when conducting research,” says Higgins. “For me the real pleasure is finding out what others are doing.”

Such as York humanities professors William Whitla’s and Victor Shea’s research and subsequent book Essays and Reviews: The 1860 Text and Its Reading (University of Virginia Press, 2000), which investigates the scandal surrounding the publication of Essays and Reviews in 1860, several months after Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Essays and Reviews caused as much if not more of a furor than Darwin’s book.

Higgins is the general editor of an eight-volume series about Gerard Manley Hopkins and that is how the question of John Henry Cardinal Newman’s girlfriend came up. She was Hopkin’s uncle’s sister and a good friend of Newman’s. She was a painter and one of Hopkin’s first converts to Catholicism. “Hopkins and Newman have this woman in common and no one wants to talk about her,” says Higgins. “She wrinkles the neat history and biography of Newman that is currently presented. She is sort of this ghost on the margins.”

The VSNY symposium program will begin with York humanities professors Victor Shea and William Whitla discussing "Constructing the Victorian Canon"; Scott Library Assistant Librarian Lisa Sloniowski will then present "Licensed Haunts of Loafers: Nineteenth-Century Resources at York Libraries"; and James Elwick (Science & Technology) will look at “An inconvenient Test: Women in 19th-Century Competitive Written Examination Networks, Objectivity and Educational Reform.” The morning will be moderated by Choi.

In the afternoon, Natalie Neill (English graduate student) will present "Mirth and Marvels: Nineteenth-Century Gothic Parody” followed by visual arts Professor Emeritus Kenneth Carpenter’s “A Veritable Psychology: Walter Pater’s Art Criticism" and Higgins’ “Editing Hopkins; Or, On the Trail of the Cardinal’s Girlfriend". The afternoon will be moderated by Bernie Lightman, director of the Graduate Program in Humanities and editor of ISIS.

For more information, contact David Latham at