Ladies of the Night: Prostitution in the Victorian World (HIH1585)

StaffProfessor Kate Fisher - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.50
NQF Level4
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

Various sources relating to Britain and its Empire will be used to illustrate both the extent and nature of prostitution and also its cultural significance. Debates about prostitution and the subjectivity of such sources will be shown to be revealing of wider Victorian political and social concerns particularly with regard to class, race, gender, civilisation, health and disease, and industrialisation and urbanisation.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Assess the nature of Victorian views of prostitution
  • 2. Work critically with a range of sources for the history of prostitution in the Victorian world
  • 3. Critique nineteenth-century historical texts.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Identify the problems of using historical sources e.g. bias, reliability, etc, and to compare the validity of different types of source.
  • 5. Answer a question briefly and concisely
  • 6. Present work orally, respond to questions orally, and think quickly of questions to ask other students.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Independent study and group work, including the presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning
  • 8. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 9. Work with others in a team and interact effectively with the tutor and the wider group.
  • 10. Write to a very tight word-length.

Syllabus plan

Following an introductory lecture in the first week, a separate source will be analysed in each of the remaining 10 weeks. Sources will be diverse including, for example, newspaper reports, police reports, artistic representations, novels, autobiographies, feminist tracts and court records.


The first class will explain the basic outlines of the subject, providing a framework into which students can then fit the sources they will be studying, as well as explaining the format that the remaining classes will take: in particular, they will be divided into groups. In subsequent weeks, the class will have been told, in advance, to prepare an answer in 400-500 words to a question relating to one of the set texts. In the class, three students will present their answer to the question in turn. The rest of the students will then subdivide into their own groups to comment on the presentation. These questions will then be asked and answered, with discussion being allowed to develop on key points. In the light of the discussion and the tutor's comments, the students will then self-assess their own work according to a pro-forma, which will then be collected by the tutor for moderation. Finally, the class will end with the tutor outlining the work to be done for the following week's class.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22 hour lecture: Introduction to module
Scheduled learning and teaching activities2010 x 2 Seminars. At a meeting of the whole class generally a different group of 3-4 students will give a presentation to the whole class, followed by class discussion and working through the sources for that week carefully. Additional sources may be issued in the class and the lecturer will also use the time to set up issues for the following week.
Guided independent study128Students prepare for the session through reading and research; writing five source commentaries and an essay and preparing one group presentation in the course of the term.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation (3-4 students)10-15 minutes1-4, 6-7, 9Oral
Lowest mark from portfolio of 5 source commentaries500 words1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
4 highest marks from portfolio of 5 source commentaries60 (15% per commentary)2000 words (500 per commentary)1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments
Essay on Sources401500 words1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
4 highest marks from portfolio of 5 source commentaries4 highest marks from portfolio of 5 source commentaries1-5, 7-8, 10Referral/deferral period
1500 word essay1500 word essay1-5, 7-8, 10Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Judith R. Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of sexual danger in late-Victorian London (London, 1992)

Sheila Jeffreys, The Idea of Prostitution (1997)

Linda Mahood, The Magdalenes; prostitution in the nineteenth century (London, 1990)

Paula Bartley, Prostitution: Prevention and Reform in Britain, 1860-1914 (London 1999)

Ronald Hyam, Empire and Sexuality (Manchester, 1991)

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