Fall 2021: Victorian Connecticut—”Excess and Empire”


By Elizabeth J. Normen

(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. Fall 2021

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The Fall 2021 issue, which focuses on the fascinatingly complicated and disruptive Victorian era, was put together with the assistance of guest editor Briann Greenfield. It’s one of her favorite topics, and not just because she served as the executive director of the Victorian-era Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. “When my eye came to recognize the Victorian aesthetic,” she said, “I started seeing it everywhere, particularly in the built environment of Connecticut’s urban core. And I started to wonder about the period’s legacy. What stories, what insights did this period of excess and empire hold for us today?” 

Some question the label “Victorian” to describe a period in history on this side of “the pond.” What did we, in the United States, have to do with the long-reigning Queen Victoria for whom the era is named? The United States and England had a close relationship, explains historian Daniel Walker Howe in “Victorian Culture in America,” a special issue of American Quarterly (December 1975). Victorianism crossed the Atlantic—with the first steamship crossing in 1839, and the exchange of Morse code messages by trans-Atlantic cable between the queen and President James Buchanan in 1858. But the era is important to study because, he asserts, “the period marked a crucial—probably the crucial—transformation of the United States; it was a time of industrialization, knowledge explosion, immigration and vast population growth, urbanization, geographical expansion, changing race relationships, and the greatest armed conflict on American soil.”

Indeed, as you read this issue’s stories, it becomes clear that we’re not in Rev. Thomas Hooker’s Puritan Connecticut anymore. You know it by the Victorian aesthetic on display—a feast (some would say overload!) for the senses. I hope you enjoy feasting on—and digesting—this issue.

Looking Ahead to our 20th Anniversary

This issue completes 19 years of publication! Please support our annual Friends campaign this fall with a gift to support our continued publication, our popular podcast Grating the Nutmeg (produced with the state historian), and our expanding education programs and resources. Friends support has been so important to us. More than 25 percent of our annual operating budget now comes from these unrestricted gifts. As is our tradition, gifts of $100 or more will be listed in the Spring 2022 issue. Send your gift by check, by recommendation from your donor-advised fund, or online at ctexplored.org/subscribe/friends-of-connecticut-explored/.

We are grateful to the more than 70 supporters (as of press time) who made significant contributions last spring to a special campaign to establish an endowment for CTExplored through the Endow Hartford 21 campaign. We are so deeply touched by the generosity of these gifts, large and small, to establish the fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. The campaign continues through June 30, 2022. Learn more at ctexplored.org/20th-anniversary-endowment-campaign/.

In more good news, we’ve received a planning grant from Connecticut Humanities to plan a major celebration of this important milestone beginning in fall 2022. We hope to bring you a really exciting array of programs, stories, and special events that will not only celebrate this occasion but help us look forward to the future. Stay tuned for more information in the coming issues.







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