A172 – eTMA1 – John Wheater, Thursday 04/12/03

This eTMA is a three-part description of how we are to approach the course essay (to be submitted later as eTMA2), whose title is Compare and contrast the influence of commerce and religion on mid-Victorian culture.  The length of the essay is to be no more than 1500 words.

Section 1 - Analyse the title – not  more than 350 words.

[My submission is here entirely based on the key words & phrases]

Compare and contrast – (Instruction, all other headings are ‘content’)

The objects of the comparison are the cultural influence of a) commerce and b) religion. These influences are to be not only compared, but also contrasted. So there is a pre-supposition that the two influences are both different and opposed.  Or, I guess, if one thought this was not the case one could explain whichever of the implications is incorrect[Liz1] .


The period chosen is one in which religious certainties were assailed by scientific discovery.  This is an important fact, and was much debated.  We must be careful though not to focus on it, though we may mention it.  Our concern is with commerce, which, while science-driven, is not science itself.  Further again, our subject is not commerce itself, or religion itself, but their influence[Liz2] .


This is a synonym for trade.  “…the buying and selling or exchange of commodities for profit” (OED). Trade and technology have been the twin drivers of the material development experienced in the last 250 years.  This development is still accelerating, and was just getting into its stride in our period.


A person holding to the truth of a certain set of transcendent assertions is said to be practising religion.  This practice is and has been common to all human societies.  While there are many distinct religious assertions, each shares the characteristic that its truth or falsity cannot be physically demonstrated;  that is to say, it is transcendent.  Not all transcendent beliefs are religious, for example the belief of a soldier that his regiment is better than all others[Liz3] .


The twenty-five years 1851-75 roughly (Best).  From the Great Exhibition to controlling the Suez Canal.


“…the civilization, customs, artistic achievements, etc., of a people, esp. at a certain stage of its development or history.” (OED).


This is too rich a pudding for extensive discussion in this framework.  We’ll rest on Pirsig’s aphorism on ‘quality’ – “I won’t define it, but you know what it is”. 


The matter of the essay is the contribution of each key ingredient.


Section 2 - Draw up a plan of the essay, not more than 350 words.

[This section is mainly presented as a structural plan.  My primary source text from the given ‘Victorian Anthology’, will be Best.  I’ll also use Trevelyan’s Social History, the Chambers Biographical Dictionary (), the Encyclopaedia  Britannica (14th edition, 1929), and various web sites yet to be defined[Liz4] .]

Part 1 – short introduction – 200 words

What mid-Victorian culture is and how it changed over the period[Liz5] . Changes in religious practice, including the effect of scientific work.  Changes in the scale of commercial activity, and in commercial practice. 

Part 2 – more detail of the culture and how it changed – 300 words

Reflection and statistics on changes in

1.     Religious practice, church attendance, numbers of clergy, church income and expenditure.

2.     Trade figures, employment patterns, population.

3.     Political activity, enfranchisement, social stability.

4.     Education, literacy, numeracy.

5.     Books and newspaper readership.

6.     Perceptions of the Empire[Liz6] .

Part 3 – the meat – how each element influenced the above changes – 600 words

Key points:

1.     Prosperity and literacy both increased as a result of commerce, which increasingly required literate staff. This led toward a culture in which people were more inclined to read, both for entertainment and information.  So we see a growth in informed political awareness and confidence.

2.     Trade was the driver of Britain’s position as ‘top nation’, leading to expansion of the armed forces, particularly the Navy.  The cultural effects included growth in  personal confidence and in patriotism.

3.     Christian religious principles were widely accepted as a standard of behaviour throughout our period.  One effect of this was to establish honest dealing as a norm, deviation being punished by social exclusion at least. A further cultural effect was in the method of dealing with the needy, who could not be left to starve, and with prisoners, whose treatment had to be humane[Liz7] .

Part 4 – short conclusion – 200 words

A summary of the points made, forcefully presented so as to leave the reader positively eager to learn more[Liz8] .

Part 5 - Reference List

Presented using the Harvard standard, as given in Student Toolkit number 5[Liz9] .


Section 3 - Write a brief account summing up the intention of the essay, not more than 300 words.

This essay is essentially descriptive and informative[Liz10] .  There is no intention to defend one view of a controversial matter.  On the other hand, this is no mere passive description of ‘how our forefathers lived’.  The elements of the comparison, ‘religion’ and ‘commerce’, are themselves key parts of the culture, and their effects, overall as well as on one another, are to be presented in sharp focus.


The target reader is a bookish person who, while not taking a serious interest in Victorian history, has a general knowledge of developments during our period. They will know of imperial development, of Arnold’s “slow withdrawing roar” of religious faith, of scientific advance, and of the great engineering achievements[Liz11] .


Our aim is to clothe these bare bones, perhaps not with solid flesh, but with an attractive and well-made garment.  The broad cultural development during the period will be examined, illustrated by some hard facts on trade & religion [Liz12] 


The reader will, as with a full-page broadsheet feature article, emerge from their task better informed, and encouraged, perhaps briefly, into further reading from the texts cited[Liz13] .


Reference List

1.     Best, G. 1971 Mid-victorian Britain 1851-75

2.     OED online, 2003.



 [Liz1] Right. But your initial assumption is more likely to be right. You might take your analysis a bit further and consider the types of difference there might be. For example, there could be both differences in kind and in quantity – maybe one had more influence and one less? It’s worth exploring the instruction words from all angles.

 [Liz2] Yes- focus on this

 [Liz3] Yes – again explore this a bit further? Might ‘religion’ include doctrines, dogmas, rituals etc. of particular groups? What I a’m trying to suggest to you is that your essay might benefit from a very thorough consideration of all the angles. You can then reject what seems inappropriate at the research and planning stage.

 [Liz4] We still need to clarify this, John. The object of these TMAs is for you to focus on writing a good essay not on finding out a lot about Victorian England. The sources in the anthology provide ample material to work with while you focus on the the essay writing skills you are learning. The best essays are going to be the ones which use one or two of the anthology sources and really focus them. Secondary sources are OK but use them sparingly. You don’t actually need them. I am going to be looking for your skill in making a case etc. not for your ability to research large amounts of material.

 [Liz5] This on its own would take a book. Check the bullet point on p. 20 of Blk 2 (Under Planning your intro) You don’t need a huge amount of background. Address the question, give your main points and point towards your conclusion.

 [Liz6] I expect you will find that you need to leave this out. I don’t think you’ll have room.

 [Liz7] There are some good points here. Work with them.

 [Liz8] I really value your enthusiasm John! But what is the point of the essay? It’s not to teach or inspire your reader to learn more of Victorian England (although that would be a bonus). Its point is to make a case for a particular opinion (yours) in response to a particular question (the TMA). Focus on persuading your reader that the opinion you have reached about the comparative influence of religion and commerce is right, or if not right at least valid.

 [Liz9] Good

 [Liz10] This needs to be changed. ‘This essay is essentially persuasive’? You need to ‘make a case’. If you ‘describe’ in your OU TMAs you will lose loads of marks.

 [Liz11] But are these relevant?

 [Liz12] The facts are fine as long as they serve the argument.

 [Liz13] You have acquired a good’voice’ here, both sufficiently academic and clearly personal. Well done.