This year’s final Media History seminar will feature Bob Nicholson (aka “The Digital Victorianist”) discussing his search for a Victorian sense of humour. Please join us at 6pm on Thursday May 21 in room G34 on Senate House’s ground floor.
“We Are Not Amused: In Search of the Victorian Sense of Humour”
What would it take to make a Victorian joke funny again?
Nothing short of a miracle, you might think. While the great works of 19th-century art and literature have been preserved and celebrated by successive generations, the period’s most popular jokes have now been forgotten. Indeed, we have become accustomed to imagining our Victorian ancestors as terminally humourless; a straitlaced society whose attitude to comedy is neatly captured by Queen Victoria’s immortal and largely misquoted observation that “we are not amused”. And yet, millions of jokes were written during the nineteenth-century. They were printed in books and newspapers, performed in theatres and music halls, and re-told in pubs, offices, taxicabs, and kitchens.
Unfortunately, like most forms of oral popular culture, the majority of these jokes have been lost. However, a few thousand of them have been preserved within recently digitised newspaper collections. In 2014, Dr Bob Nicholson (Edge Hill University) teamed up with the British Library Labs on a new project that aims to find these forgotten jests and recover their history. This talk examines the workings of Victorian newspaper humour. In the process, it explores the world of professional Victorian joke writers, tracks a particularly successful gag as it ‘went viral’ around the world’s media networks, and reveals what happens when we tried to release nineteenth-century jokes on modern-day social media.
Bob Nicholson’s Edge Hill University profile can be found here: https://www.edgehill.ac.uk/english/staff/dr-bob-nicholson/