Victorian Classes and Classifications

November 13-15, 2014, London, Ontario, Canada

Victorian Britain belonged to the classifying age. Imperial expansion and new techniques of observation and production confronted Britons with an expanding universe of natural and man-made phenomena. In response, scientists, writers, artists, and educators sought to articulate some underlying sense of order through ever more complex systems of organization, arrangement, and tabulation. Natural philosophers vastly extended and revised the taxonomies of Linnaeus. Medical professionals developed new diagnostic tools and coined a broad range of new pathologies and diseases. Criminologists gathered biometric data that allowed them to constitute and apprehend criminal types. Literary critics debated the rise of new classes of literature, from the penny dreadful and sensation fiction to the naturalist novel. Librarians set out the protocols for indexing the classes and sub-classes of literature that resulted from the vast outpouring of printed matter. Teachers began to organize their classrooms into distinct groupings of students by age and ability. But with these efforts came, too, a new concern and fascination for that which exceeded classification, the anomalous, the mutation, the hybrid, the monstrous, and class struggle emerged as a theory of history and as a basis for political organization.

Posted: February 10, 2014