Victorian Poverty in Print and Digital Forms Digitally Representing the Multimodal Publication History of Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor

1. Abstract

This project digitally remediates selections from Henry Mayhew’s seminal survey of poverty, London Labour and the London Poor (weekly serial, 1850-52; 2 vols, 1851; 4 vols, reissued with additions, 1861). Print culture offers rich opportunities for digitization, and I engage with current conversations in Victorian studies about developing sustainable, scholar-driven digital resources produced outside of commercial ventures like GALE and ProQuest (Stauffer; Fyfe). For example, Felluga argues for resisting skeuomorphic forms of knowledge production by capitalizing on new technologies (44), while Wisnicki points to the success of nineteenth-century digital archives which emphasize materiality, are user-friendly, and are sustainable with little funding (984). I engage with work on the potential of digitization as a means of navigating and preserving Victorian print media (Mussell), on canonical scholarship of hypermedia and digital textualities (Landow; Bolter; Gaggi; McGann; Hayles), and on recent work on the hypermedia reading and cognitive hypertext comprehension (Ryan; Shang; Medina-Medina et al.) to examine how interactive media offers a model of digitally representing Victorian print culture which resists the form of the printed book. The theoretical framing of this project addresses the following questions: 1) What potential is there for interactive hypertext to represent the materiality, dissemination, and readerships of serialized print texts? 2) How do Victorian texts speak to the concerns of digital publishing and materiality in a public digital humanities context?

As a seminal text in the history of urban poverty, London Labour has been subject to continuous remediation and repurposing. It was attributed to Henry Mayhew, but was the collaborative product of multiple actors, including multiple journalists, editors, publishers, readers, and the London poor themselves. The multimodal remediation of pieces of this collaborative work as a newspaper column, independent serial, expensive volume set, stage play, reading series, 'unfashionable' novel, and twenty-first century selected print editions, destabilizes readings of London Labour as an authoritative encyclopedic resource of nineteenth-century culture and poverty. Its volume and irregular production history make it difficult to engage with (Roddy et al. 482; Schroeder), a common problem when studying periodicals (Robson). In its current digitized forms on Google Books and Internet Archive, London Labour is represented using facsimile scans of its four volumes, which, despite being comprehensive and searchable, are not subject to bibliographic control, and feature unreliable OCR. However, London Labour invites a nonlinear and interconnected model of reading that speaks to, and even anticipates, hypertextual forms of reading. My project features twenty-five of Mayhew’s articles, selected according to two pressing themes: first, waste collection and recycling, and second, the publication history and the materiality of books in London Labour. These selections contain scholarly annotations and are hyperlinked in connecting pathways. They can be read chronologically, or by selecting keywords and thematic clusters. The selections also compare plain-text transcripts to nineteenth-century facsimiles, emphasizing the text’s uneven production. Drawing from Scanlan’s reading of the poor as producers circulating in an alternative waste economy, and Price’s work on the material cycles of paper and books in Mayhew’s work, my project interrogates the following carrefours: first, the intersections between Mayhew and the street-folk in the urban space of Victorian London represented in London Labour; and, more broadly, the intersection between Victorian print and the digital humanities. Receiving feedback will position me to expand this open-access resource as a collaborative project, and to develop its pedagogical potential for training students in digital methods and tools through the lens of print studies.

Works Cited

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Felluga, Dino Franco. “BRANCHing out: Victorian studies and the digital humanities.” Critical Quarterly, vol. 55, no. 1, 2013, pp. 43-56.

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Mayhew, Henry. London Labour and the London Poor. 4 vols. London: Griffin, Bohn, and Company, 1861. Google Books, Accessed 10 Oct. 2019.

---. London Labour and the London Poor. 4 vols. London: Griffin, Bohn, and Company, 1861. Internet Archive, Accessed 10 Oct. 2019.

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Schroeder, Janice. “The Publication History of Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor.BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Ed. Dino Franco Felluga. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net, Accessed 8 Oct. 2019.

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Jenna M Herdman (, Carleton University, Canada

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