Investigating the Victorians (Online)


In the nineteenth century Britain led the world in the dramatic process of industrialisation but the consequences for British society were far reaching. How were ordinary people affected by these developments? This course aims to investigate the lives of the Victorian people both rich and poor, in order to gain an understanding of the key issues that transformed Britain during this period.

This course was written by Annette Mayer who specialises in nineteenth and twentieth century British history. Annette is the author of three online courses for OUDCE. Listen to her talking about the course:

When Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, Britain was already engaged in the complex and dramatic process of industrialisation. This process had unforetold consequences for the British people, challenging the lives of both rural people and those who migrated to the new expanding towns and cities. Death, disease and poverty were just some of the daily hardships encountered. Inventions and entrepreneurial initiatives brought wealth and prosperity to many, but to others just a life of misery and endurance. People’s public and private lives were also affected by distinct Victorian values which shaped attitudes towards religion, philanthropy, the role of women and leisure activities. It was a society of great contrasts, in many respects deeply religious, yet in other ways often seemingly immoral and uncaring.

This course will investigate the key features of Victorian society and will seek to establish the links between economic and social change in order to understand the significant developments which transformed Britain during this period. It will also evaluate and assess the underlying values and attitudes which shaped Victorian society.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

1. The landscape of Victorian Britain

  • The Great Exhibition
  • A changing environment
  • Population trends
  • Structure of society

2. Victoria: monarch and empire

  • The Image of a Queen
  • A modern royal family
  • Jubilees – celebrating the Empire

3. Victorian family life

  • Childhood
  • Marriage
  • Legal rights of women

4. The workshop of the world

  • Industrial revolution
  • Innovations in transport
  • Urban development

5. Public health

  • Health epidemics
  • Housing conditions
  • Attitudes and solution

6. Poverty and the workhouse

  • Problems of poverty
  • The workhouse
  • Victorian philanthropy

7. Crime and Punishment

  • The ‘criminal’ classes
  • Punishment
  • Treating the insane

8. Religion and education

  • The established church v nonconformism
  • Sectarian education
  • Education for the masses

9. Leisure

  • Cultural interests
  • Growth of the seaside resorts
  • Popular entertainments

10. Retrospect

  • Strengths and weaknesses of the Victorian age
  • Final images of Victorian Britain

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting the final course assignment. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.


Description Costs
Course Fee £350.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Ms Liz Woolley

A freelance local history tutor, researcher, writer, speaker and tour guide.

Course aims

Investigate and evaluate the lives of the British people during the Victorian era.

Course Objectives

This course will enable participants to:

  • Describe and identify the key social and economic features of life in Victorian Britain.
  • Question and analyse the ideals and values of Victorian society with respect to religion, gender, family, class and social responsibility.
  • Develop a range of historical skills through the evaluation of primary sources and historiography.

Teaching methods

  • Guided reading of texts and internet resources.
  • Research topics with student feedback.
  • Different discussion formats eg very structured or informal.
  • Set questions on primary materials as part of ongoing assessment
  • Questions to be answered in personal folders.
  • Quizzes

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to have gained the following skills:

  • The ability to write both critical and balanced analysis in order to evaluate the main social and economic features of life in Victorian Britain.
  • The ability to discuss and interpret the underlying values of Victorian society and to appreciate how issues such as gender and religion affected attitudes.
  • The ability to compare, evaluate and interpret primary sources in order to develop and support historical arguments and to communicate their own ideas successfully to debates about Victorian Britain.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.