The Victorian Web, 1987-2020 — Why is it unique? Interesting?

The Victorian Web, which became a 501(3)(c) charitable organization in February 2020, originated in hypermedia environments (Intermedia, Storyspace) that existed long before the World Wide Web. One of the oldest academic and scholarly websites, it entered the Internet in 1994. The Victorian Web takes an approach that differs markedly from many Internet projects. Today the Internet offers many excellent resources — and we use them often! —  such as Project Gutenberg, the HathiTrust Digital Library, the Internet Archive, the Library of Congress, and British Listed Buildings. These sites take the form of archives that quite properly preserve their information in the form of separate images or entire books accessible via search tools. The Victorian Web, in contrast, presents its images and documents, including entire books, as nodes in a network of complex connections. In other words, it emphasizes the link rather than the search tool (though it has one) and presents information linked to other information rather than atomized and isolated

The Victorian Web takes a fundamentally different approach to finding and using information than do search-based Internet projects. Internet archives and invaluable Internet tools, such as Google, treat bodies of information as a chaotic swamp that one searches — one can’t say “negotiates” — with a wonderful laser-like tool that penetrates the fog and darkness. If we find what we're looking for, we leave immediately. We relate differently to hypertexts like the Victorian Web, which conceive of information existing within a complex ecology or set of connections, because they allow us to experience the richness of the texts and images we encounter. In the Victorian Web we encounter books, paintings, political events, and eminent and not-so-eminent Victorians in multiple contexts, which we can examine when and if we wish to do so. The Victorian Web also differs fundamentally from websites like Wikipedia and many reference works, such as Britannica, and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: Each of these justly renowned sites (which authors of material on this site use frequently) aims to present a single authoritative view of its subject. In contrast, the multivocal Victorian Web encourages multiple points of view and debate, in part because matters of contemporary interest rarely generate general agreement.

Originally begun back in 1987 as a means of helping scholars and students see connections between different fields, the site today has greatly expanded the kinds of connections one can find. For example, on this site commentary on the works of Charles Dickens exists linked to his life and contemporary social and political history, drama, religion, book illustration, economics, and so forth.

In addition to providing a continually expanding collection of interlinked document and images, The Victorian Web also serves as a laboratory or testbed to discover ways to make visual and textual materials more attractive and more useful to its users. One chief area of such research involves increasingly the usefulness of so-called legacy materials, chiefly books and articles that originally appeared in print. Here the question is, “How can one add value to an electronic version of a major text that in some way makes up for the fact that reading it online deprives readers of some of the pleasures of using a physical text.” For example, our online edition of Ruskin’s enormously influential The Seven Lamps of Architecture, whose original print version makes its excellent illustrations hard to use, places these images near the text that mentions them, often adding details, photographs of the subjects of the drawings, and connections to a wide range of useful material including secondary materials, Ruskin’s other works, and images of the Gothic and the Gothic Revival.

Another example of exploring the use of digital media to enhance users’ experience of physical objects involves creating rotatable images of sculpture and other physical objects that permit one to examine them in ways often not possible in museums. Finally, another goal of the Victorian Web is to explore and possibly invent new, more effective forms of scholarly writing.

Who edits it?

The current editors are: Jacqueline Banerjee, Editor-in-Chief and Webmaster, Diane Greco Josefowicz, Managing Editor and Editor for Science and Technology, Simon Cooke, Senior Editor and Editor for Book Illustration and Design, and (in the order in which they joined the board) Philip V. Allingham, Contributing Editor, Canada, Andrzej Diniejko, Contributing Editor, Poland, Joanne Devereux, Gender Matters Editor, Timothy Larson, Editor for Religion, Richard Gibson, Contributing Editor, and Dory Agazarian, History Editor. We continue to be guided by the principles of our Founding Editor-in-chief, George P. Landow. We have an editorial assistant, Nigel Finch, and two contributing photographers, John Salmon and Colin Price.

How large is it?

We had 130,996 documents and images as of 17 April 2024, and it grows every day. Approximately 3,700 documents are Spanish translations of the sections on literature and religion created by a team based at the University of Computense Madrid and initially funded by the Spanish government. Approximately 1780 documents about Ruskin, gender matters and the visual arts exist in French translation, too.

How many people use it?

At the last estimate,the site was receiving 1.5 million page views a month.

What areas does it include?

Primary and secondary texts (including scholarly book reviews) in British Victorian economics, literature, philosophy, political and social history, science, technology, and visual arts (painting, architecture, sculpture, book design and illustration, photography, decorative arts, including ceramics, furniture, jewelry, metalwork, stained glass, and textiles, costume and various movements, such as Art Nouveau, Japonisme, and Arts and Crafts).

Although the site concentrates on Great Britain in the age of Victoria (1837-1901), it includes much material before and after those years, particularly in sculpture and architecture, and the site also has a good deal of comparative material. For example, one can find railroad stations and other forms of iron-and-glass architecture not only from England but also from Australia, Croatia, France, Italy, India, Malaysia, Portugal, and Singapore. In addition, the section on Aesthetes, Decadents, and Symbolists include European literature and art.

What kinds of media does it include?

Text, monochrome, and color images predominate, but our section on Victorian music, theater, and popular entertainment includes sound files with performances of both music hall and parlor ballads. In addition, the site also contains a small number of VR images of sculpture and works of decorative art that the viewer can turn and otherwise manipulate.

What areas are especially strong?

Literature, painting, architecture, sculpture, book illustration, history, religion, though the sections on history and technology include hundreds of documents.

Who can contribute?


Who has contributed?

Chiefly professional scholars from the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia, the great majority from the U. S. and U. K. In addition to work by members of the faculty at universities around the world, the site contains several hundred essays on literature by undergraduate and postgraduate students, chiefly from Brown but also from other universities.

Is it peer-reviewed?

(a) The site has three dozen out-of-print scholarly books, all of which have been peer-reviewed. (b) Since 2010 all submissions from outside the editorial board receive 3 or 4 readings, with the exception of book reviews, which only the editor-in-chief vets. (b) Contributions by undergraduates in courses at Brown and other universities, some of which appear on the site for the importance to the history of hypertext, are clearly marked as such.

What about copyright? Who owns what?

Authors, including those who contribute out-of-print scholarly books — we have several dozen — and those who contribute photographs and reproductions of art works, generally major museums and galleries, retain copyright. The many thousand photographs by the editors or our contributing photographer bear the following permission line: “You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.” (When we use material from the Internet Archive and Hathi Trust, we request that they be credited, too.)

How is it funded?

Currently self-funded. The Victorian Web has never received direct from Brown University, though thanks to the famous physicist, Gerald Guralnik, one of the discoverers of the Higgs Boson, it was first housed on externally funded computers in his High Energy Physics Group. Later for a few years in the 1990s Brown’s Scholarly Technology Group under the guidance of Alan Renear housed the site. In the later 1990s Landow and Noah Landow, President of Macktez Corp, funded servers that host the site, and they have again done so since 2008. From 2000 to 2008, the University Scholars Program at the National University of Singapore, which Landow served as the founding Dean, funded a main server, a mirror site, support staff, and four post doctoral or senior researchers. In 2020 became a 501(3)c non-profit corporation.

Who are the members of Foundations’s leadership team?

The Victorian Web Foundation’s Board of Directors are; Jacqueline Banerjee (President); Diane Josefowicz (Secretary); Noah M. Landow (Treasurer); and Matthew Pontefract (Board Member).

Does it exist in languages other than English?

Approximately 5,000 documents exist in Spanish and a smaller number in French, as indicated above. Asun López-Varela Azcárate PhD of the Facultad de Filologéa, Universidad Complutense Madrid, conceived, organized, and directs the translation of the Victorian Web into Spanish, coordinating more than 100 translators and vetting their work. Montserrat Martínez García PhD, who translated the entire section on religion as well as much of the material on Ruskin, including a complete book, is the single most active of the translators. In addition, single documents exist in a dozen and a half other languages.

What honors has it received?

More than 4,000 sites link to it. Archived daily by the Library of Congress, it has won prizes and recognition throughout its existence. In 1990 its pre-web version received the EDUCOM/ENCRIPTAL Higher Education Software Award from National Center for Research to Improve Postsecondary Teaching and Learning; in 2000 it won the Art History Webmasters Award in Paris; in 2010 the London Times declared it "an outstanding resource." It has received more than fifty awards both for the entire site and specific sections, such as history, visual arts, evolution, and religion. It has been recommended by Britannica, the BBC, the History Channel, and agencies or organizations in England, France, Italy, Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, and the United States.


Landow, George P. Hypertext 3.0: New Media and Critical Theory in an Era of Globalization. Baltimore; Johns Hopkins, 2006. Especially Ch. 6, “Reconfiguring Writing” (pp. 144-214) and Ch. 7, “Reconfiguring Literary Education” (pp. 272-320). Translations of this and earlier versions: Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish.

Last modified 17 April 2024