“This enormous Babel of a place” is how Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle described London to his brother in 1824, and today about one-third of the UK’s 9 million migrants reside there.
This course invites students to engage virtually with multicultural London as a literary mecca for migrants and immigrants, especially those who came from former imperial colonies to seek a new life in the metropolitan capital. Each student will be trained to use the archivist’s digital tools—mapping, timelines, annotation, etc.—to compile an online archive/portfolio on a research topic of their interest. We will be visited frequently by guest speakers involved with immigrant writers and populations in London, and look forward to discussing with them their scholarship and practice.
We will start in the early 19th century, in the course of which the population of London increased from one million to seven million, largely due to migration from rural areas. We’ll follow displaced persons into the Victorian period by reading E. Barrett Browning’s verse-novel Aurora Leigh and Dickens’ Oliver Twist, as well as “condition-of-England” writing by Mayhew and Booth. In the 1920s, writers such as T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf assessed the traumatic impact of world war on the erstwhile imperial capital, and the course will conclude by reading poetry, fiction and films by immigrants (and their descendants) from former colonial territories in South Asia, the Caribbean, and Africa, and—mostly recently—EU countries such as Poland. This London-focused course is designed for students seeking to explore the global dimensions of literary London.