The Victorian Web, 1987-2012 — Why is it unique? Interesting?

The Victorian Web, which originated in hypermedia environments (Intermedia, Storyspace) that existed long before the World Wide Web, is one of the oldest academic and scholarly websites. It takes an approach that differs markedly from many Internet projects. Today the Internet offers many excellent resources — and we use them often! —  such as Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, the Library of Congress, and British Listed Buildings. These sites take the form of archives that quite properly preserve their information in the form of separate images or entire books accessible via search tools. The Victorian Web, in contrast, presents its images and documents, including entire books, as nodes in a network of complex connections. In other words, it emphasizes the link rather than the search tool (though it has one) and presents information linked to other information rather than atomized and isolated

The Victorian Web takes a fundamentally different approach to finding and using information than do search-based Internet projects. Internet archives and invaluable Internet tools, such as Google, treat bodies of information as a chaotic swamp that one searches — one can’t say “negotiates” — with a wonderful laser-like tool that penetrates the fog and darkness. If we find what we're looking for, we leave immediately. We relate differently to hypertexts like the Victorian Web, which conceive of information existing within a complex ecology or set of connections, because they allow us to experience the richness of the texts and images we encounter. In the Victorian Web we encounter books, paintings, political events, and eminent and not-so-eminent Victorians in multiple contexts, which we can examine when and if we wish to do so. The Victorian Web also differs fundamentally from websites like Wikipedia and many reference works, such as Britannica, and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: Each of these justly renowned sites (which authors of material on this site use frequently) aims to present a single authoritative view of its subject. In contrast, the multivocal Victorian Web encourages multiple points of view and debate, in part because matters of contemporary interest rarely generate general agreement.

Originally begun back in 1987 as a means of helping scholars and students in see connections between different fields, the site today has greatly expanded the kinds of connections one can find. For example, on this site commentary on the works of Charles Dickens exists linked to his life and contemporary social and political history, drama, religion, book illustration, economics, and so forth. Similarly, our online edition of Ruskin’s enormously influential The Seven Lamps of Architecture, whose original print version makes its excellent illustrations hard to use, places these images near the text that mentions them, often adding details, photographs of the subjects of the drawings, and connections to a wide range of useful material including secondary materials, Ruskin’s other works, and images of the Gothic and the Gothic Revival.

How large is it?

80,945 documents and images as of December 3, 2014, and it grows every day. Approximately 5,000 documents are Spanish translations of the sections on literature and religion created by a team based at the University of Computense Madrid and initially funded by the Spanish government. A small number of documents about Ruskin and gender matters exist in French translation, too.

How many people use it?

The site now receives 1.5 million page views a month and several hundred thousand on the University of Nagoya server in Japan, which is updated only once or twice a year.

What areas does it include?

Primary and secondary texts (including scholarly book reviews) in British Victorian economics, literature, philosophy, political and social history, science, technology, and visual arts (painting, architecture, sculpture, book design and illustration, photography, decorative arts, including ceramics, furniture, jewelry, metalwork, stained glass, and textiles, costume and various movements, such as Art Nouveau, Japonisme, and Arts and Crafts).

Although the site concentrates on Great Britain in the age of Victoria (1837-1901), it includes much material before and after those years, particularly in sculpture and architecture, and the site also has a good deal of comparative material. For example, one can find railroad stations and other forms of iron-and-glass architecture not only from England but also from Australia, Croatia, France, Italy, India, Malaysia, Portugal, and Singapore. In addition, the section on Aesthetes, Decadents, and Symbolists include European literature and art.

What kinds of media does it include?

Text, monochrome, and color images predominate, but our section on Victorian music, theater, and popular entertainment includes sound files with performances of both music hall and parlor ballads. In addition, the site also contains a small number of VR images of sculpture and works of decorative art that the viewer can turn and otherwise manipulate.

What areas are especially strong?

Literature, painting, architecture, sculpture, book illustration, history, religion, though the sections on history and technology include hundreds of documents.

Who can contribute?

Anyone.

Who has contributed?

Chiefly professional scholars from the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia, the great majority from the U. S. and U. K. In addition to work by members of the faculty at universities around the world, the site contains several hundred essays on literature by undergraduate and postgraduate students, chiefly from Brown but also from other universities.

Is it peer-reviewed?

(a) The site has three dozen out-of-print scholarly books, all of which have been peer-reviewed. (b) Since 2010 all submissions from outside the editorial board receive 3 or 4 readings, with the exception of book reviews, which only the editor-in-chief vets. (b) Contributions by undergraduates in courses at Brown and other universities, some of which appear on the site for the importance to the history of hypertext, are clearly marked as such.

What about copyright? Who owns what?

Authors, including those who contribute out-of-print scholarly books — we have several dozen — and those who contribute photographs and reproductions of art works, generally major museums and galleries, retain copyright. The many thousand photographs by the editors or our contributing photographer bear the following permission line: “You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.” (When we use material from the Internet Archive, we request that it be credited, too.)

How is it funded?

Currently self-funded. The Victorian Web has never received support from Brown University, though it was first housed by the High Energy Physics Group at Brown University, then by Brown’s Scholarly Technology Group. In the latter 1990s Landow funded servers that host the site, and he has done so since 2008. From 2000 to 2008, the National University of Singapore funded servers, a mirror site, support staff, and four post doctoral or senior researchers.

Who owns it?

George P. Landow, Professor of English and the History of Art, Emeritus, Brown University; former Shaw Professor of English and Digital Culture (Computer Science), National University of Singapore, 2000-2003. george@landow.com

Who are its editors and chief contributors?

George P. Landow PhD, Founder, Editor-in-chief. and Webmaster; Jacqueline Banerjee PhD, Associate Editor, Assistant Webmaster, and UK Contributing Editor; Philip V. Allingham PhD, Contributing Editor, Canada; Andrzej Diniejko PhD, Contributing Editor, Poland; Derek B. Scott PhD, Music Editor; Diane Greco Josefowicz PhD, Science and Technology Editor; Robert Freidus, Contributing Photographer. Asun López-Varela Azcárate PhD of the Facultad de Filologéa, Universidad Complutense Madrid, conceived, organized, and directs the translation of the Victorian Web into Spanish, coordinating more than 100 translators and vetting their work. Montserrat Martínez García PhD, who translated the entire section on religion as well as much of the material on Ruskin, including a complete book, is the single most active of the translators.

What honors has it received?

More than 4,000 sites link to it. Archived daily by the Library of Congress, it has won prizes and recognition throughout its existence. In 1990 its pre-web version received the EDUCOM/ENCRIPTAL Higher Education Software Award from National Center for Research to Improve Postsecondary Teaching and Learning; in 2000 it won the Art History Webmasters Award in Paris; in 2010 the London Times declared it "an outstanding resource." It has received more than fifty awards both for the entire site and specific sections, such as history, visual arts, evolution, and religion. It has been recommended by Britannica, the BBC, the History Channel, and agencies or organizations in England, France, Italy, Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, and the United States.

Bibliography

Landow, George P. Hypertext 3.0: New Media and Critical Theory in an Era of Globalization. Baltimore; Johns Hopkins, 2006. Especially Ch. 6, “Reconfiguring Writing” (pp. 144-214) and Ch. 7, “Reconfiguring Literary Education” (pp. 272-320). Translations of this and earlier versions: Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish.


Vicvtorian Web main screen

Last modified December 3, 2014