During the nineteenth century, Britain became the first gaslit society, with electric lighting arriving in 1878. At the same time, the British government significantly expanded its power to observe and monitor its subjects. How did such enormous changes in the way people saw and were seen affect Victorian culture? To answer that question, Chris Otter mounts an ambitious history of illumination and vision in Britain, drawing on extensive research into everything from the science of perception and lighting technologies to urban design and government administration. He explores how light facilitated such practices as safe transportation and private reading, as well as institutional efforts to collect knowledge. And he contends that, contrary to presumptions that illumination helped create a society controlled by intrusive surveillance, the new radiance often led to greater personal freedom and was integral to the development of modern liberal society.
"The Victorian Eye"'s innovative interdisciplinary approach--and generous illustrations---will captivate a range of readers interested in the history of modern Britain, visual culture, technology, and urbanization.
"The Victorian Eye is a spectacular debut. Meticulously researched, theoretically imaginative, and elegantly written, it should be read by all those interested in the histories of vision, technology, the environment, and liberal government. A thoughtful, provocative, and often funny book, this is history as it should be written."
--James Vernon, author of Hunger: A Modern History
"This excellent volume offers an important new historicist interpretation of the interaction of technology, vision, and power in the late nineteenth century. Otter dexterously evinces the new socio-technical patterns of perception that emerged in the British liberal state as its urban environments were transformed by the arrival of gas and electric lighting. This work is essential reading, especially for those dissatisfied with twentieth-century clich s of the panopticon and the fl neur as modes of appreciating the nexus of materiality, mobility, and management in civic life."
--Graeme Gooday, University of Leeds
"A rich history full of previously understudied spaces, objects and connections. . . . In leaving the focus on surveillance and spectacle aside, the breadth of topics of historical interest increases dramatically. In this regard, The Victorian Eye
should be commended for its originality and ambition."--Jimena Canales "British Journal for the History of Science "