Punch Cartoon depicting, ‘John Stuart Mill’s logic, Franchise for females; "Pray clear the way for these-a-Persons" Date: 1867

John Stuart Mill and Victorian Britain

Tutor: Miles Taylor

Module type: Special Subject

Module Code: HIS00084H

Child prodigy, philosopher, public intellectual, liberal MP and campaigner for women’s rights, John Stuart Mill (1806-73) remains a compelling historical figure of the 19th century, and a revealing optic through which to observe and understand the complexities of Victorian Britain, both at home and overseas. Ahead of his time in some respects – in his defence of liberty and toleration, and in his view on women and socialism – Mill was also a product of his age: servant of the East India Company, suspicious of the working class, and Eurocentric on imperial and colonial affairs. He was a philosopher in action, not content remaining in his ivory tower. Mill’s attitudes towards issues such as empire, gender, public morality, science and religious belief, the role of the law and the state, and the environment, can lead us to reassess a whole range of ‘Victorian values’, making the 19th century appear curiously modern in some ways, yet also far removed from our own contemporary sensibilities. And his writings and activities (and his subsequent legacy) allow us to interrogate what ‘liberalism’ comprised in the Victorian era.

The course is based on readings from primary materials which are available online. The principal source is The collected works of John Stuart Mill ed. John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963-91, digital edition at: http://oll.libertyfund.org). Other contextual readings will be drawn from contemporary newspapers, periodicals and pamphlets. Familiarity with 19th century British history is helpful but not a prerequisite.

Seminars are likely to cover the following areas:

    • Introductory: themes and sources
    • Father and son: James and John Stuart Mill
    • Mill and Jeremy Bentham
    • Harriet Taylor
    • France and the 1848 revolutions
    • Political economy and free trade
    • Ireland
    • Science and religion
    • India
    • On Liberty and the role of the state
    • Parliamentary reform
    • Women’s suffrage
    • Mill as MP, 1865-8
    • Imperial questions
    • Nature and the enivronment
    • Mill the socialist?
    • Legacy                      


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.