Ebooks & Book Launch

We’re pleased to announce a seminar and book launch for this year’s final Media History meeting. The seminar will start at 6pm on Tuesday May 16 in Senate House’s Chancellor’s Hall. The book launch will take place immediately afterwards (7 onwards – feel free to join us anytime).

First up: Simon Rowberry on ‘Resurrecting the Ebook: A media archaeological excavation of the Kindle’s development, 1930-2007.’

Amazon’s launch of the Kindle in 2007 was lauded as the moment when ebooks finally became economically viable for publishers. This success was facilitated by Amazon’s careful analysis of previous failed attempts to commercialize ebooks since the early 1990s, and earlier theoretical models developed since the 1930s. This presentation will explore how the Kindle’s reputation stems from a mixture of adapting pre-existing technology and the right social-technological context rather than a complete revolution in ebook design.

Simon Rowberry is Lecturer in Digital Media and Publishing at the University of Stirling. His research on ebooks and online reading habits has been published in Language and Literature, Convergence and Orbit: Writing Round Pynchon. Simon is currently working on a monograph exploring the development of the Kindle in its first decade.

The seminar will be followed by a book launch to celebrate the publication of Joanne Shattock’s Journalism and the Periodical Press in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Cambridge University Press, 2017).


Newly commissioned essays by leading scholars offer a comprehensive and authoritative overview of the diversity, range and impact of the newspaper and periodical press in nineteenth-century Britain. Essays range from studies of periodical formats in the nineteenth century – reviews, magazines and newspapers – to accounts of individual journalists, many of them eminent writers of the day. The uneasy relationship between the new ‘profession’ of journalism and the evolving profession of authorship is investigated, as is the impact of technological innovations, such as the telegraph, the typewriter and new processes of illustration; and contributors go on to consider the transnational and global dimensions of the British press and its impact in the rest of the world. As digitisation of historical media opens up new avenues of research, the collection reveals the centrality of the press to our understanding of the nineteenth century.

The book will be introduced by Michael Slater, author of Charles Dickens (2009), Douglas Jerrold (2002) and editor of the Dent Uniform Edition of Dickens’ Journalism (1994-2000).

All welcome. Further information about the seminar is available through the Institute of Historical Research and the Institute of English Studies.




May Seminar II: The Digital Victorianist

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/

All welcome! Further details about the seminar are available from the Institute of Historical Research and Institute of English Studies.

Catherine Waters on Victorian Special Correspondence

Please join us at the next Media History seminar for a presentation by Catherine Waters and a response from Joanne Shattock. The seminar will take place on Thursday February 26 at 18.00 in Senate House, Room G35 (ground floor).

‘“Doing the Graphic”: Victorian Special Correspondence’:

In an 1868 article on ‘Our Own Correspondent’ devoted to explaining the identity of this ‘mysterious and apparently ubiquitous functionary that figures every morning under the above designation in the columns of the newspaper’, the Leisure Hour sought to clarify the role of the Victorian ‘Special Correspondent’:

We are not speaking now of the regular correspondent, who, residing constantly in some foreign capital, gleans from the officials of the Government such information as they choose to impart, and as much more as he can; but of him who is the special messenger of the London press, and is ready to start to any quarter of the globe at a moment’s notice.

The article attempts to distinguish between the foreign correspondent – based in one place and charged with keeping the public at home abreast of political affairs transpiring elsewhere – and the roving reporter whose exceptional duties were aptly designated by the adjective ‘Special’. But the distinction is at the same time obscured here by the use of the common by-line, from ‘Our Own Correspondent’, for both journalists.

In her seminal study of Victorian News and Newspapers in 1985, Lucy Brown distinguished the foreign correspondent from the war correspondent, and argued that ‘the phrase “special correspondent” had no very precise meaning’ in the nineteenth century, but that it nevertheless described someone who was working on a particular assignment and who typically presented his investigations ‘in a series of letters in successive issues’ of the newspaper (216-217). It is perhaps in part because of this lack of precise definition that no major study has yet been devoted to Victorian ‘special correspondence’ (as opposed to war correspondence) – a project that I am now engaged in.

War correspondence was certainly one key form of ‘special correspondence’ and Joel Wiener notes that the term ‘special correspondent’ ‘came to be used synonymously with “war reporter”’ during the Crimean campaign (The Americanization of the British Press, 98.n3). But Victorian ‘Specials’ had to turn their hands to cover all manner of events in any location as required by their newspaper. What distinguished their journalism was its mobility, versatility and descriptive power: an ability to observe and seize upon events wherever they happened, rendering them for the press in sufficiently graphic prose so as to transport readers through vivid eye-witness accounts. ‘Special correspondence’ was a new technology – like the railroad or the telegraph, both of which it was associated with – that brought the world closer, shrinking space and conveying readers to distant places. This paper will seek to define Victorian ‘special correspondence’ and to consider some of the ways in which these ‘letters’ despatched from elsewhere helped to create a geographical imagination at home.

Information about both speakers can be found here:



All welcome! (Note: Matthew Philpotts’ talk has been postponed.) Future seminar dates can be found on the IES website: http://events.sas.ac.uk/ies/seminars/389/Media+History+Seminar