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Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications

Alyssa Arbuckle, Alison Hedley, Shaun Macpherson, Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, Daniel Powell, Jentery Sayers, Emily Smith, Michael Stevens, Authors

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An Arial Review of London Low Life

For my review I’ve chosen London Low Life, a digitized archive of street culture ephemera of the Victorian period and early 20th century. London Low Life: Street Culture, Social Reform, and the Victoria Underground advertises itself as a “a full-text searchable resource, containing colour digital images of rare books, ephemera, maps and other materials relating to 18th, 19th and early 20th century London.” Built by Adam Matthew Digital from the materials at Indiana University’s Lilly Library, the project “is designed for both teaching and study, from undergraduate to research students and beyond.” London Low Life offers among its resources digitized versions of Fast literature and Street ephemera – posters, advertising, playbills, ballads and broadsides, Penny fiction, Cartoons, Chapbooks, notations of Street Cries, Swell’s guides to London prostitution, gambling and drinking dens, and Reform literature. Finally, London Low Life (referred to as LLL for the remained of the review) also hosts a series of 27 warped historical maps of London layered with significant socio-political data like population density, the locations of institutions such as workhouses, women’s refuges, prisons, asylums, etc. This mapped data is also set on a scrollable timeline that stretches from 1801-1890, and has appended digitized contemporary engravings of the city's streetscapes designed to simulate a 3D environment.

Unfortunately, LLL, is a subscription only database, limiting access to those affiliated with universities. The resource, though, in its thoroughness seems popular and has been well reviewed, notably by Rosalind Crone for Reviews in History. Although LLL does not list its funding source on its site, my best guess is that Indiana University supplied the bulwark of the funding. Since Indiana University garners respectful nods for the depth of its Victorian research, LLL’s credibility as a resource is bolstered by its academic affiliation.

The editorial board itself lists some impressive Victorian Scholars as the project’s consultant editors, similarly reinforcing LLL's integrity. These consultant editors, namely Judith A. Allen (IU), Peter Bailey (University of Manitoba), Ruth Livesey (University of London), and Sean Shesgreen (University of Northern Illinois), are notable scholars in their disciplines and have published widely in the field of Victorian studies. Though it could be a matter of the freshness of LLL (launched only in 2010) the project could use more published peer reviews. To date, I have been able to find only a few reviews, though these are mostly favourble; “Reviews in History,” a site dedicated to reviewing digital projects with an historical bent, published a nuanced review in 2010. More reviews, perhaps one by the prestigious NINES (Nineteenth Century Scholarship Online), could buoy the project’s reputation and circulation.

But LLL has made an effort to link to other projects. For example, the site offers outgoing links to a variety of reputable online archives and exhibits such as The British Library, BBC’s “History Trails: Victorian Britain,” The National Art Library Catalogue, and The Victoria and Albert Museum; it also links to other scholarly archives including the “Charles Booth Online Archive,” “The Victorian Dictionary”, and “the Nineteenth Century City.” None of these sites, though, link back to LLL. Unfortunately, it is difficult generally to find other projects that link directly to LLL, despite the acclaim that Adam Matthew projects generally receive. I have not, moreover, been able to locate any information concerning publicity.

LLL does host a selection of essays about the project on its site, written mostly by the consultant editors I’ve listed above. These range from introducing the Lilly Library and project to essays composed from interpretations of the data the site has made available. The latter includes essays on street cries, prostitution and disease acts, and the rise of capitalism and the pleasure industry. These latter essays offer prime examples of how to interpret the resources offered, and also provide useful contextualization for undergraduate students approaching the bewildering amount and diversity of these resources.

The project aims to bait the attention of scholars of literary studies, cultural studies, urban studies, and social history, to name a few. However, the site might be too content-heavy for undergraduate research. As Rosalind Crone notes in her review, the sprawling list of source materials is “either off-putting or difficult to interpret.” She suggests that this type of presentation incites students to seize “the inconsequential rather than viewing the resource as a whole.” The editorial board, though, has provided a number of guides and essays to provide context for the data that should facilitate the level of interpretation that Crone sees lacking. The external links to other exhibitions and archives, too, provide handy context. LLL also hires editorial interns at the postgraduate level, integrating its development with instruction.

Author: Michael Stevens
Word Count: 765
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