Past Conferences

VSAO Conference 2020

Please find below details of a call for papers for the upcoming Victorian Studies Association of Ontario conference,

“Light in Dark Places: Victorian Animals and Human Interventions,” to be held at Glendon College, Toronto, 25 April 2020.

Keynote Speakers:
Jody Berland, York University
Susan Hamilton, University of Alberta

From Queen Victoria’s beloved dachshund, Dash, to Lewis Carroll’s furry feline, Dinah, pets were an integral part of the Victorian domestic world, while thousands of working animals laboured outside the home in transportation, farming, mining, and other industries. As the century went on, the rise in animal welfare agencies and the anti-vivisection movement focused the public’s attention on the exploitation of and cruelty to animals. Imperialist and colonialist big game hunters killed hundreds of animals for trophies to display back home in Britain. A burgeoning reading public reacted in various ways to Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and Descent of Man, both of which suggested deep connections between humans and other species. As a result, there was a shift in Victorians’ perceptions of animals and their relationship(s) to human beings. Ever since Harriet Ritvo’s The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in Victorian England (1989), scholars have increasingly looked at questions surrounding animal rights, the consumption and representation of animals, and changing attitudes towards animals in the nineteenth century.

We welcome papers that explore Victorians and the biological creatures that inhabited their historical moment. How did Victorians understand and represent animals in popular culture and in various media, including the fine arts, literature, advertising, and political cartoons? What effects might we trace in the use of animals for entertainment: on the stage, in zoos and circuses, and on the street? How did Victorians consume animals and animal products for food, fashion, and housewares? What role did animals play in constructing both British colonialist and imperialist agendas?

Possible themes might include but are not limited to:

  • fictional representations of animals
  • anthropomorphism
  • evolutionary, post-humanist, and Anthropocene theories and studies
  • print culture and animals, illustrations, cartoons, poetry
  • consumption of animal and animal products
  • animals in visual culture, paintings, sculpture, advertising
  • children’s literature and animals
  • anti-vivisection
  • photography and animals
  • taxidermy
  • animals in animals and natural history museums and museum studies
  • zoos, circuses, and menageries
  • hunts and hunting cultural histories
  • animals in sport
  • anatomical studies
  • capitalism, empire, and animal labour
  • animals and colonialist and imperialist histories and representations
  • medical and scientific discourses involving animals
  • veterinary practice
  • animal products in the fashion industry
  • endangered and extinct animals of the era

Please send an email attachment of your 300-to-400-word paper proposal, and 100-word biographical statement to: Lin Young ( & Emily Rothwell ( by 5 February 2020.


VSAO Conference 2019

Victorian Marketplaces:
Consumers, Consumables, Circulation, and Consumption

Glendon College
2275 Bayview Avenue

Saturday 27 April 2019

9:30-10:20am             Registration and Tea                               (York Hall 317)

10:30am-12:15pm     Morning Session                                      (Glendon Hall 102)

Ashley Wilcox (Tufts University)
“The Commodification of the Scaffold in Victorian England”

Julianna Will (York University)
“Consuming Maidenheads: Hymens and Hymen Metaphors in Popular Victorian Texts”

Margo Beggs (Independent Scholar)
“My Little, Simple Souvenirs”: Consuming Mid-Victorian Photographs of Neoclassical Statuary in Rome”

Katy Jackson (Royal Holloway, U of London)
“Cutlery in Circulation: Buying, Keeping, and Stealing”

12:30-1:40pm         Lunch                                                            (York Hall 317)

1:50-2:50pm           Keynote Address I                                       (Glendon Hall 102)

Deepali Dewan (University of Toronto/ ROM)
Knowing Chintz: The Cloth That Changed The World

3:00-4:00pm           Keynote Address II                                      (Glendon Hall 102)

Stuart McCook (Guelph University)
Confessions of an Accidental Victorianist:
Thinking about the Victorian World in Global Context

4:10-5:00pm           Sherry Hour                                                   (York Hall 317)

^ image c. 1850, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London


VSAO Conference 2018

Visualizing the Victorians: Objects, Arts, and Artifacts 
Saturday, 28 April 2018

This year’s conference will take place at the Textile Museum, at 55 Centre Avenue in Toronto. Your conference registration fee includes entry into the museum.

Keynote Speakers:

Deborah Lutz (University of Louisville)
A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Woman, by Emily and Charlotte Brontë

Alison Syme (University of Toronto)
 Burne-Jones, Melting, and Modernity

Session Panelists:

Jo Devereux (Western University)
The People as They Were”: Daguerreotypes, Stereoscopes, and Engravings of Sculpture at the Great Exhibition, 1851 

Cathy Jewison (University of Oxford)
Light, Shadow, and the Other World:The Dissolving View and its Effect on the Victorian Ghost Story and Spiritualism

Jennifer Green-Lewis (George Washington University)
Alice at the Microscope: On microphotography and perceptual instability

Ryan Roark (LTL Architects, New York City)
“Below the Surface of These Unliving Husks”: On the representation of boundaries, structure, and organization in nineteenth-century cellular biology and architecture 


VSAO Conference 2017

New Intimacies: Changing Interactions in the Victorian World
Saturday, 29 April 2017                          
Keynote Speakers:
Jason Camlot (Concordia University)
Affordances of Victorian Literary Forms and Media Formats: Towards a Sociology of Literary Historical Audiotexts
Seth Koven (Rutgers University)
From Angry Father to Loving Friend: The Changing Face of God in Modern Britain, 1840s to 1930s
Session Panelists:
Elissa Gurman (University of Toronto): Dreamy Desire and Consent of the “whole mind”: Love and Intimacy in George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss
Lyndsay Day (Western University): ‘[A]n altogether remarkable cross-firing of telegrams’: Communication Technologies in Late Nineteenth-Century Detective Fiction
Lin Young (Queen’s University): Spectral Objecthood: Rethinking 19th-Century Materiality through Spirit Matter and Séance Objects

VSAO Conference 2016

Vicarious Victorians: Transmitting Experience in the Nineteenth Century

Keynote Speakers

Rachel Ablow (SUNY Buffalo): Wounded Trees, Abandoned Boots: Thomas Hardy and the Homelessness of Pain

Jules Law (Northwestern University): Virtuality at the Heart of Realism: Information and Animation in Middlemarch

Session Panelists

Danielle Barkley (McGill University & Bishop’s University): Receiving a Vicarious Education in Braddon’s The Doctor’s Wife

Martin Danahay (Brock University): Transmitting War: Roger Fenton in Crimea, 1855

Erin Piotrowski (University of Toronto): Powers of the Virtual: Technology and Subjectivity in Thomas Hardy’s A Laodicean

April 2015: 
Race, Place, and Perspective in the Victorian Period

Keynote Speakers

Charmaine A. Nelson (McGill University): James Hakewill, Joseph Kidd, and Isaac Belisario: Representing Jamaica from Slavery to Apprenticeship

Susan Casteras (University of Washington): Seeing America through a Victorian Lens: British Constructions of Slavery and ‘That Accursed System’

Session Panelists

Victor Shea (York University): ‘Historical Research and Antiquarian Lore’: Translatio Imperii et Studii: Race and Place in the Empress of India Debates (1876)

Bassam Chiblak (University of Victoria): W. M. Thackeray and F. Walker’s The Adventures of Philip as Unionist Propaganda in Harper’s

Winnie Chan (Virginia Commonwealth University): Eminent Victorians, Neo-Slave Narratives, and British Heritage


April 2014:
Too Little, Too Late: Decadence and Incompleteness in the Victorian Era

Keynote Speakers

Stephen Arata (University of Virginia)
Decadent Form

Barbara Leckie (Carleton University)
Unfinished: An Incomplete Account of Victorian Procrastination

Session Panelists

Alison Chapman (Harvard University): Ornament and “Bad Form”: The Aesthetics of Inattention in the Victorian Novel

Aaron Donachuk (University of Toronto): Belated Distraction: Sensational Poetics, the Machinery of Attention, and Wilkie Collins’s 1860s Novels

Leslie Allin (University of Guelph): “It is Inexplicable, this delay”: News, Penetration, and Prowess in Gordon’s Khartoum Journals

April 2013:

Victorian Play(s): Excess and Expression

Keynote Speakers

Dennis Denisoff (Ryerson University)
“’A Disembodied Voice’: The Playful Spirits of Decadence”

Carolyn Williams (Rutgers University)
“Reading Melodrama”

Session Panelists

Ann Colley (Buffalo State College): “Excess and Empire at the Belle Vue Zoo, Manchester”

Simon Reader (University of Toronto): “@Oscar: The Play of Information in Wilde’s Notebooks”

Marlis Schweitzer (York University): “An ‘Unmanly and Insidious Attack’: Child Actress Jean Davenport and the Performance of Masculinity in 1840s Jamaica and Newfoundland”

April 2012:
Victorian Thresholds: Between Culture and Anthropology

Keynote Speakers

Kathy Psomiades (Duke University)

“Darwin and the Anthropologists revisited: Sexual Selection, Primitive Marriage, and Victorian Race Theory”

Audrey Jaffe (University of Toronto)
“Walk this Way: Adam Bede and the Production of Realist Space.”

Session Panelists

Martin Danahay (Brock University) and Deborah Reed-Danahay (University at Buffalo)
“The Boundaries of Social Space in Jekyll and Hyde: Between Literature and Anthropology”

Sherrin Berezowsky (University of Windsor)
“Narrative of an Explorer in Tropical South Africa and the Imperial Roots of Galton’s Narrative of British Progress”

Alisha Walters (University of Toronto)
“Affective Hybridities: Dinah Craik’s Olive and British Heterogeneity”

April 2011:
Manipulation: Victorian Variations on Hands, Handling, and Underhanded Behaviour

Keynote Speakers

James Eli Adams (Columbia University)
“The Dead Hand: George Eliot and the Uses of Inheritance”

Lorraine Janzen Kooistra (Ryerson University)
“Hands of Art, Eyes of Science: Vestiges of Corpses in Pre-Raphaelite Poetry and Pictures”

Session Panelists

Peter Capuano (University of Nebraska)
“Thackeray’s (In)Visible Manipulation in Vanity Fair”

Gregory Brophy (University of Western Ontario)
“Unauthorized Autobiographies: Graphology and the Science of ‘Character’ in Stevenson’s Strange Case”

Aviva Briefel (Bowdoin College)
“Crimes of the Hand: Detection and the Belgian Congo”

April 2010:
Victorian Cultural Icons and Iconography, Then and Now

Keynote Speakers

Kate Flint (Rutgers University)
“Neo-Victorian Photography and Victorian Masquerade”

Bernard Lightman (York University)
“The Many Lives of Charles Darwin: Biographies and the Definitive Evolutionist”

Session Panelists

Ann-Barbara Graff (Nipissing University)
“Iconographies of Guilt: Three Façades of Eugene Aram”

Jo Devereux (University of Western Ontario)
“The Iconography of “Happy England”: Helen Allingham’s Domestic Genre Paintings”

Lesley Higgins (York University)
“Pater and the ‘Laws’ of Victorian Iconography”

April 2009:
Victorians and the Spectacular

Keynote Speakers

Ann Colley (English, Buffalo State University)
“Mountains and Mountain Climbing as Spectacle in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century”

Keith Wilson (English, University of Ottawa)
“Thomas Hardy and Drama as National Spectacle: ‘The Dynasts’ On and Off Stage”

Session Panelists

Stephanie McAllister (University of Toronto)
“’The daughter of my mind’: Hysterical Movement as Resistence in Tomorrow’s Eve”

Frederick D. King (English, University of Western Ontario)
“The Spectacle of the Occult and Sexual Dissidence: Positioning Passive Men in the Victorian Spiritualist Movement”

Rob Breton (English, Nipissing University)
“The Rhetorical Strategies of the Unstamped Press”

April 2008:
Victorian Interiors: Material and Metaphorical

Keynote Speakers

Janice Helland (Women’s Studies and Fine Art, Queen’s University)
“From Mud Cabin to Private Palace: Production, Display and Marekting of Craft in Ireland and Scotland, 1880-1900”

Matthew Rowlinson (English, University of Western Ontario)
“Foreign Bodies: Symptom, Race and Representation in Darwin and Freud”

Session Panelists

Jean Rosenfeld (History/Visual Arts, York University)
“‘A Noble House in the City’: The Victorian Ineriors of Elite Homes in Late-Nineteenth-Century Hamilton, Ontario”

D.M.R. Bentley (English, University of Western Onatrio)
“The Interior as ‘Common Property’ and ‘Uncontrollable Heart’ in Duncan Campbell Scott’s In the Village of Viger (1896)”

Mary Wilson Carpenter (Emerita, English, Queen’s University)
“Cow-heels and Water Drops: John Snow’s Metropolitan Interiors”

April 2007:
Bodies in Motion

Keynote Speakers

Marta Braun (Imge Arts, Ryerson University)
“Photography, Darwin, and Victorian Anthropology”

Paul Deslandes (History, University of Vermont)
“The Beautiful Man in Victorian Culture”

Session Panelists

Jaclyn Reid (Communications and Art History, McGill University)
“Sex for Sale: Mass Consumption of the Prostitute’s Body”

Constance Crompton (Communication and Culture, York University)
“‘We Admire Physical Strength and Beauty’: Eugene Sandow in the Public Eye”

Jo Devereux (English, University of Western Ontario)
“Acting Lady Audley: The Female Body ‘On and Off the Stage,’ 1860-1890”

April 2006:
Splendour in the Grass

Keynote Speakers

Martin Danahay (English, Brock University)
“John Ruskin’s Garden”

Joy Dixon (History, University of British Columbia)
“‘Love is a sacrament that should be taken kneeling’: Sexuality, Religion, and the Troubled History of ‘Secularization'”

Session Panelists

Barbara Leckie (English, Carleton University)
“Splendour and Squalor: Housing for the Poor in Harriet Martineau, George Eliot and Mary Ward

D.M.R. Bentley (English, University of Western Ontario)
“‘A Glorious Field upon which to Work’: Environmental Determinismin Post-Confederation Canadian Culture and Aesthetics”

Lisa Smith (English, University of Toronto)
“The Other Side of Physiology: Desire and Knowledge in The Lifted Veil”

Barbara K. Seeber (English, Brock University)
“Women and Nature: Jane Austen’s ‘Catherine, or the Bower'”

April 2005:
Pater, Periodicals, and the Weather

Keynote Speakers

Michael Wolff (English, University of Massachusetts)
“A Periodically Led Life: My 40 Years in the Field”

Katharine Anderson (Science, York University)
“Cloudy Wisdom: Local and Universal Knowledge in Victorian Weather Science”

William Whitla (Arts, York University)
“Rudyard Kipling, Horace, and Imperialism”

April 2004:
Poetry, Imperialism, and Homology

Keynote Speakers

Donald Hair (English, University of Western Ontario)
“Why Read Robert Browning?”

Victor Shea (Arts, York University)
“‘Pushing our way experimentally through an untrodden forest, where no white man’s axe has been before us’: Science, Adventure, and Imperial Authority in the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary”

Mary Winsor (History and Philosophy of Science, U of Toronto) “The Bull, its Killer, and the Killer’s Wings; or, How Two Ladies in Toronto Solved Richard Owen’s Mystery”

April 2003:
Railway Erotics, Gendered Ekphrasis, and Female Community

Keynote Speakers

Peter Bailey (History, University of Manitoba)
“Adventures in Space: Victorian Railway Erotics”

Sophia Andres (English, University of Texas)
“The Pre-Raphaelite Gendered Ekphrasis of the Victorian Novel”

Mary Arseneau (English, University of Ottawa)
“Recovering Female Community: Frances, Maria, and Christina Rossetti”

April 2002:
The “Nineteenth Century” and the Reorganisation of Knowledge

Keynote Speaker

Tilottama Rajan (English, University of Western Ontario)
“Prose of the World: Romanticism, the ‘Nineteenth Century,’ and the Reorganization of Knowledge”

Panel Discussants: “The Place of Periodisation in the Academy Today, or Whither Nineteenth-Century Studies in the New Millennium”

Katharine Anderson (Science and Society Program, York University)
Mary Wilson Carpenter (English, Queen’s University)
Stephen Heathorn (History, McMaster University)
William Whitla (Humanities, York University)

April 2001:
Disciplines and Narrative

Keynote Speaker

Leslie Howsam (History, University of Windsor)
“Discipline and Narrative: History Books for Victorian Readers”

April 2000:
Cultural Importation and Reproduction:

Britain in North America in the Nineteenth Century

Keynote Speakers

Laurel Brake (Literature, Birkbeck College, Univ. of London) “‘Globalization’ and the Press: The Nineteenth Century/ The ‘new journalism’/W.T. Stead”

David Latham (English, York University) “‘Count us by clay for them to fashion’: Pre-Raphaelite Refashionings in Canada”