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Languages Seminar 5: 19th Century European Press and Culture and its Meaning for Europe Today

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

Our fifth OxNet seminar took place on Zoom, due to the situation with Covid-19. We were led by Tom Ward, Hollie Eaton and Daisie Eaton (who studies French at the University of Chester).

The session started with Tom and Hollie providing some context for the seminar by taking us through a series of slides exploring the social, political and economic changes though the 19th century in the UK. Daisie then discussed these changes from a French perspective, with a particular focus on the French press. Following this, the group was introduced to the concept of popular culture, again with a focus on the press. The group was asked to reflect on questions such as:

What is popular culture?

Who creates popular culture?

Is it the same for everyone?

Is it ‘bottom up’ or ‘top down’?

Is an advert for an abortion in 19th century London popular culture?

We proceeded to discuss the first paper (by Jessica Valdez) - a study of Dickens’ thoughts regarding the popular press. I was surprised to learn that Dickens was so involved with the press, given that he is a writer generally associated with fiction. We were asked to consider questions such as:

What made newspapers in Dickens’ day dangerous?

Does printed media today still have these problems?

What did Dickens want the press to achieve?

Was Dickens a father figure for society at that time?

Is the idea of a father figure a useful one?

Then we moved on to the second paper (by John Cawelti) on literary formulas. As an extension to the reading, we were asked:-

What does the repetition and success of literary formulas tell you about society?

Have you read anything that doesn’t follow the literary formula you expected it to?

Despite the difficulties with Covid-19, this seminar was thought provoking with some challenging questions and interesting viewpoints. It highlighted how issues with popular culture/press that were prevalent in 19th century Europe persist today (especially in relation to the Migrant Crisis which was discussed in the third seminar).

By Cassie Lloyd Watson

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