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Victorian Studies Program Goals and Objectives

The Victorian Studies program is interdepartmental and enables students to combine courses offered in several departments with independent work. Through an interdisciplinary approach, students examine the assumptions, ideas, ideals, institutions, society, and culture of nineteenth-century Britain. We offer no regularly scheduled classes of our own, but rely on relevant courses offered within departments and occasionally other programs to sustain our program. Those courses are drawn largely from the departments of history, English, and art history. In some years, though, we have also credited courses from music, philosophy, political science, economics, and French toward the major. These courses address a variety of questions through approaches too different and numerous to summarize here. Most of the courses that our program draws upon are seminars or small classes that use discussion rather than lecture. All require students to work closely with texts (including musical texts) or visual images and learn to develop from those their own interpretations of evidence. Further, all the courses require students to learn to present their thoughts as forceful arguments in clear, correct prose. We ask students to consider the texts or images that they study within the context of nineteenth-century culture and introduce them to methods of primary research in historical documents. We are fortunate that Vassar's library has outstanding holdings from the Victorian period. The small size of Vassar classes enables professors to work closely with students in supervising various research projects and developing students' writing skills.Our program reflects and fulfills the statement of academic purpose in the college's mission statement admirably. We seek both breadth and depth of study, and all our students learn more than the mastery of arid facts. Rather, they genuinely attain "skill in the conduct of inquiry" and the satisfaction of achieving results from their independent pursuit of research. They come to recognize different kinds of knowledge and the value of exploring different approaches to their study. Our students make connections and comparisons between the culture of nineteenth-century Britain and that of contemporary American life. Their investigations include the immediate experience of "creative ideas, works of art, and scientific discoveries" of a rich and complex culture. Students learn to pursue confidently their own ideas and imagine new ways of understanding evidence; additionally, they learn to present their discoveries clearly and persuasively and to document evidence accurately. Through this process, they explore their own values and commitments and become increasingly aware of their fellow human beings in the twenty-first century. We hope to develop students' inner awareness, as well as to enlarge their consciousness of the world in which they live.Victorian Studies aims to help majors develop their capacity to synthesize different kinds of knowledge achieved from various theoretical approaches in different disciplines. This requires an alert imagination, as well as a strong intellect and cultivated feelings. To achieve this goal, students select courses from the program's list of required courses. In all of these, reading and discussion approach the primary subject of the course through disciplines ranging from history and literature to sociology, philosophy, or women's studies. In our courses, we assign substantial writing and require senior majors to write an interdisciplinary thesis supervised by two professors from two departments. We also encourage our majors and correlates to spend part or all of their junior year in Britain, so that they can examine the environments in which the artists, writers, and thinkers whom they study actually lived. This experience can help them to understand the nuances of life in Victorian Britain and make them more attentive to what is characteristically Victorian--stylistically and conceptually--in the art and writing they study. Although our focus is on nineteenth-century Britain, we encourage students to familiarize themselves with British and continental culture in earlier centuries, the development of the British empire, and Britain's relations and influence abroad both during the Victorian period and after. Some courses emphasize the specific connections in various fields between Britain and the United States during the nineteenth century.