There was one formal complaint about the paper; a student complained that the
paper was too
politically orientated; and that those who had concentrated on the social "side" were thus disadvantaged. I passed this complaint on to the Chairman of Examiners, and it was duly considered by the Board of Examiners.
However, in my own defence, I think there were only two questions (out of 10) that were directly political - viz., nos. 7 and 8. Other questions, of course, contained a political element; but the purpose of the course is to integrate the "political" and the "social."
As far as answers were concerned, there was (from my point of view) a depressing tendency of people trying to write their tutorial essay again in the exam., even though they had been repeatedly told that the same questions would NOT recur.
What follows is a far from systematic analysis of the answers that were given, question by question.
1 'Our image of "Victorian Britain" is really an image of "Victoria and Albert's Britain"; without Prince Albert, Victorian Britain would have left a very different impression to its successors.' Discuss.
13 (out of 50) attempted this question. On the whole it was reasonably well done. The better answers suggested that neither Victoria nor Albert could really be given the credit, given the diversity of Victorian society. As far as Albert himself was concerned, there was a peculiar attitude to his religion. A convinced Lutheran, Albert objected to the Prince of Wales (as a child) being catechised on strict Church of England principles, and encouraged Victoria to attend Church of Scotland [i.e. Presbyterian] services while they were at Balmoral - which, since she was head of a rival establishment, the Church of England, confirmed the notion of her latitudinarian attitudes in religion. People wrote persuasively on Albert's attitude to industry (the Great Exhibition), and on the "family values" that he and Victoria came to epitomise. There was less certainty over his political role, though unanimity on the view that, since she outlived him by 40 years, our image is "Victorian" rather than "Albertian."
2. Do you agree that issues of religion were more important than economic or commercial issues to politicians in the period 1837-1851?
9 candidates (out of 50) attempted this; surprisingly (to me) several had, apparently, an almost total ignorance of religious affairs! Not one candidate mentioned the Oxford movement (a major contemporary concern), and the great majority stopped short in 1846 (i.e. omitting a large part of the period due to be considered). Only the better answers talked about the Ecclesiastical Titles Act, no one talked about Jewish Disabilities (1848) which led to the "deposition" of Disraeli and Lord George Bentinck by the Protectionists - an event of some importance, surely? Very few talked about Scottish disruption (which is said to have cost Peel victory in Scotland in 1841); and only one wrote about quarrels over denominational education. Far too many candidates confined their answers to Peel, and (while they mentioned Maynooth) really tried to write an essay about his commercial / fiscal policy (which was NOT what was asked for).
3. Why and with what justification did governments fear revolution in Britain in the 1840s?
The most popular question, with 21 out of 50 attempting it. It was also the worst done question! Almost universally people tried to answer as if this was simply a question on Chartism. The better ones mentioned anti-Poor Law riots, the Plug Plot riots etc. but no one, for instance, mentioned the attempted assassination of Peel in 1842.
I must confess that, given that this is a paper on BRITISH history, I had expected discussion of the Irish rebellion of 1848 to form part of the answer. However, a second marker correctly pointed out that Ireland was / is not part of "Britain", and therefore those (the great majority) who omitted any mention of Ireland were not in any way penalised for their answers. There's a lesson there for paper setters. Had the question in fact read: "Why and with what justification did British governments fear revolution in the 1840's?" Ireland would have formed an essential component. When we urge students to read the question closely, perhaps we need to take that advice on ourselves as well!
But more disappointingly, no one took a long term view (as contemporaries certainly did), and suggested that, since 1789, European governments of all persuasions had been continually convinced of the imminence of revolution, and that commentators as diverse as Metternich and Marx felt that Britain would see the biggest revolution of all!
4. 'To a Victorian woman, her class was of more significance than her gender.' Discuss.
19 candidates attempted this question, and on the whole did it well. Interestingly, views differed as to whether class or gender was the more significant. (I would love to know the gender of those on each side of the argument, but anonymous marking precludes this!), with some arguing that the two were, at times, indivisible. Work, family, and political activity were all discussed in sensible terms, with interesting examples - not always predictable ones - being deployed. This was the most enjoyable set of answers to read - not least because there was not a predictable answer!
5. Comment on the proposition that, far from being an age of laissez-faire, Victorian Britain represented an era of ever-growing Government interference.
4 students (out of 50) attempted this. One candidate chose to see it all in macro-economic terms, but most commented sensibly on the wide (and growing) range of government interference. Only one candidate of the four addressed the historiographical debate between the "Benthamites" and those who argue for pragmatic response to a revealed evil (the Macdonagh school). To my surprise, no one discussed e.g. compulsory vaccination.
6. In what senses, if any, was there a second Reform 'movement'?
Again, only 4 candidates attempted this one. To my disappointment, not one of the four discussed the academic argument in favour of change, in the works of Grey's essay on the reform of Parliament, Stapleton's scheme for diocesan constituencies, Mill's Essay on Representative Government, or the demand for proportional representation. Instead, people concentrated on public apathy, but did not seem able satisfactorily to explain why, if such apathy existed, politicians persisted in introducing Reform Bills.
7. Was there a qualitative difference in the reforms passed by Liberal and Conservative administrations in the period 1868-1880?
8 candidates attempted this question. A variety of approaches were adopted. No one tried to analyse the underpinning philosophies of reform, but tended to concentrate on personality - Gladstone vs. Disreaeli. Was there really no difference between Liberals and Conservatives on a philosophical level? And if much of Disraeli's legislation was in the civil service pipe-line while Gladstone was still prime minister, does that not have things to tell us about the relative philosophies of the parties? But thankfully only one candidate adopted "the next reform was " approach.
8. Why, having struggled with 'the Irish question' for so long, did Gladstone eventually conclude that the Irish were a nation?
The least popular question, with only two attempting it. The answers were not bad, but did not really get to grips with the idea of Parnell's victory in every province of Ireland - the "voice of the Irish people" - nor with the ideas of Harcourt or Spencer suggesting that Ireland had become ungovernable from London. No one raised the possibility of Ireland being TWO nations, but they at least had this in common with Gladstone!
9. How and why was the Trade Union Act of 1875 undermined in the 1890s?
6 students tried this one. One wrote as if it was a question about the formation of the LRC (another attempt to re-create a tutorial essay?) but most wrote sensibly about the perceived "threat" of "new unionism", of socialism, etc. No one, however, mentioned that the Trade Unions were blamed for the comparative weakness of the British economy - "holding the country to ransom", etc. The best essay went into detail on wage theory, which at least covers similar ground. One candidate seemed to believe that J.A.Hobson was an advocate, rather than a critic, of imperialism!
10. 'With at least three languages, with numerous religions, and with growing nationalist movements, to describe Victorian Britain as a United Kingdom is to ignore reality.' Discuss.
Another popular question, with 13 candidates attempting an answer. As with question 4, there was a pleasing unpredictability about the answers, with some concluding divisive forces were more significant than unifying ones, others taking the opposite view, and others, yet again, arguing that diversity and unity were not incompatible. Disappointingly no one mentioned the national press as a possible unifying factor, and only two candidates pointed out that railways not only transported people from region to region, but also imposed a common time on the United Kingdom. While some mentioned hostility to Irish immigrants, no one really wrote about the migration of people within the UK - Scots into England, the Welsh on Teesside, etc. There were those who embraced Linda Colley a little too enthusiastically - it's hard to see Protestantism as unifying when Ireland was part of the UK!
15th June 2001
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