Victorian innovations and discoveries helped make our world what it is today – but at what cost? Explore the lives of the rich, poor and more with this series of themed classroom activities for use with Key Stages 2 and 3.
The Victorian era was a time of massive change. During this time, the British Empire expanded into many parts of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Canada. Queen Victoria ruled over so many countries it was called ‘the empire on which the sun never sets’.
The expansion of the empire increased trade between Britain and distant regions, helping to boost the economy. Explorers became the heroes of the day as they undertook dangerous travels in the name of humanity and science and helped to inform the world of uncharted territories.
The reign of Queen Victoria was also a time of great inventions and changes in medicine, science and engineering. The development of machinery and railways revolutionised society and the economy, and sparked the Industrial Revolution, which soon spread around the globe. These changes affected the life of everyone in Britain.
At the beginning of the Victorian age, the majority of the population lived in villages and worked on the land. By the end, most people could be found in towns and cities, working in offices, shops and factories.
Life for the poor remained largely unpleasant, yet by the end of Victoria’s reign, child labour had been outlawed, with reform bills passed to make sure all children received an education.
The progress in science also led to significant developments in medicine and medical care. Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole revolutionised the care of the sick. There were breakthroughs in antiseptics and anaesthetics, popularised by Queen Victoria when she used chloroform during the birth of two of her children. Micro-organisms were found to be the cause of diseases that were carrying off even the most prominent members of society. A result of this was new sewage systems. The workhouses also had a place in helping to care for the most vulnerable members of society.
The catalogue of inventions during this time period is vast – the camera, electricity, the light bulb, the car, the steam engine, the list goes on. No other period in history saw so many inventions. Many famous doctors, explorers, novelists and artists are still remembered today for what they did during Victorian times. The Victorian age therefore offers a huge range of opportunities for pupils to undertake their own research into the changes, innovations, inventions and exploration that helped shape the world they live in today.
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Images: (top right) victorianschool.co.uk; (left) historyconflicts.com; (middle) webs.bcp.org; (right) 1216.virtualclassroom.org.uk
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