Urbanization in Britain: 1780-1914
A Teaching and Learning Technology Programme (TLTP) Unit

Robert J. Morris
Edinburgh University

Created in collaboration with five others, including Helen Meller (University of Nottingham) and Richard Rodger (University of Leicester).

Introduction of the TLTP History Courseware Consortium

The History Courseware Consortium is funded by the UK higher education funding councils' Teaching and Learning Technology Programme (TLTP) in order to develop and distribute computer-based tutorials in history. The Consortium consists of some 55 universities, university colleges and colleges of higher education in the UK. It is co-ordinated from the University of Glasgow, and the University of Southampton provides production services to the entire Consortium.

The Consortium's intention is -- by making widely available core resources for historians -- to teach the large number of history students in higher education more efficiently, while enhancing the quality of student learning. The tutorials will be made available free of charge (except handling costs) to historians at all UK higher education institutions, whether or not those institutions are members of the Consortium.

The computer-based tutorials are intended to:

  • help students orient themselves by giving them a grounding in key events, interpretations and illustrative evidence;
  • provide students with primary and secondary sources (such as documents, selections from books and articles, graphs, maps, and photographs) which they can explore to test interpretaions on their own; and
  • help students to locate appropriate books and articles on the subject.
Consortium tutorials might be thought of as 'Enriched Lectures' which introduce subjects, provide illustrative examples and inspire students to read further. Each tutorial will include an introductory essay, a set of primary and secondary sources and a guide to bibliography. Students will be able to interact with the sources and explore them to ask their own questions in a way that would not be possible in a spoken lecture.

The tutorials will be aimed at first and second level students. Their use will vary from institution to institution. The History Consortium does *not* seek to create core courses which would be taught in the same way at many institutions. Instead, it seeks to develop a flexible body of historical material which lecturers may select, modify and use in the way they think is most appropriate to their own courses. Thus the Consortium's name: Core Resources for Historians.

For more details about the Consortium, contact the Co-ordinator at the following address:

Dr Astrid Wissenburg
TLTP History Courseware Consortium 1
University Gardens
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ
Tel. 0141 330 6979/6953
Fax. 0141 330 5518
Email: tltphist @dish.gla.ac.uk
astrid @dish.gla.ac.uk

Exploring Urbanization with the Enriched Lecture - Notes on the making of 'urbanization': a TLTP (History) unit.

The following is derived from a paper delivered by Robert J. Morris (Edinburgh University, Scotland) at the 10th Annual Meeting of the Association for History and Computing in Montreal on 24-26 August 1995.

Professor Morris is leader of the enriched lecture project on 'Urbanization in Britain: 1780-1914'. Five other scholars are collaborating with him to complete the project, including Helen Meller (University of Nottingham) and Richard Rodger (Univrsity of Leicester).

The author of this paper would welcome comments, either as part of H-Urban discussion or direct to rjmorris@edin,ac.uk; the views here are very much individual views and not official consortium ones.

These notes derive from experience at three levels:

  1. member of the Steering Group of the TLTP History Consortium;
  2. convener of the group preparing four 'enriched lectures' on industrialization;
  3. leader of the group preparing a unit on 'urbanization' in 19th century Britain.
I have operated with certain principles in mind:
  1. the unit is to solve a teaching problem;
  2. it is to use abilities of the machine;
  3. but it is art of the possible not innovation;
  4. I have tended to work with people rather than create an ideal curriculum.


The teaching problems derive from the experience of teaching urban history in a social science environment:

* the visual*

I can give a lecture that incorporates slides of maps, of buildings and urban scenes. Conventional student culture finds it easy to take notes and revise the spoken and written word and place the results in an examination or essay. However it is less successful in using my maps and photographs.

The problem is compounded by the fact that visuals are attractive but actually 'reading' pictures is not a skill most students bring to a history course. It is also hard to take notes from or 'revise' a picture or a map.

The machine can bring pictures and commentary text together; students can recall pictures to the screen for revision. Information technology tends to re-inforce rather than replace teaching.

* theory*

There are variety of ways of trying to understand urbanization and how people behave in the growing towns of the 19th century; students find relating the abstraction of theory to empirical density of historical evidence problematic; in effect, they need to consider theory at the start, middle and end of the course. Student response might be:
  • don't see the point of that (theory lecture at the start)
  • not sure what I should be doing ( about to start writing an essay)
  • I can see the point of that now ( comment at end of course)
The annotated and edited key theoretical texts in this unit can be visited by students at all and any point in the learning process. Thus the texts used include:
  • Louis Wirth's view that urban 'way of life' derives from size density and complexity of the city;
  • Max Weber on the city as fort and market; as part of an hierarchy of power;
  • Philip Abrams critique of the re-ification of the urban.
The cross-referencing ability (links) of the machine can prompt students to think about these issues at suitable points in the evidence.

* Urban history tends to be example driven*

The student task is often to generalize from particular places; many teachers of urban history use local examples (Edinburgh will feature in this one), but it is crucial to see particular squares and streets as part of larger urban processes. Thus my gated elite suburb (Blackett Estate in Edinburgh) is Edgbaston in Birmingham, is Victoria Park in Manchester. The Edinburgh Street (Chambers St) built in the 1860s is also Corporation St in Birmingham, Kingsway in London and even the Haussman Boulvards in Paris. Most of the city walls in Edinburgh have long gone but they have left their mark on the urban form as they did in Hull in England and even in Montreal.

Links make it possible to prompt students to see examples as part of larger processes and look for evidence in their own localities. This tension between example and process, the particular and the general is central to the link between social science and history. Hopefully other teachers and lecturers using this unit will 'patch' in their own examples as they learn to use the software Microcosm.


We tend to terrify each other by saying we do not want 'books on screen'; actually given pressure on library resources this minimal ability of machine is not trivial; a book on the file server has at once one and hundred copies according to student demand.

There will be lots of text; Helen Meller (paper to UK AHC's Cambridge conference in Easter 1995) noted the need to consider the physical form of the screen: works in about 25 lines at a time; cannot 'flip' page easily, so need to break up text into screenfuls and to give guidance on structure of a textbook that readers get by scanning and flipping through pages.

But there is more than that:

  1. hypertext is crucial; definitions, further information, thematic links (e.g. example to process to theory to more examples) can be provided;
  2. visuals can be linked to commentary and to more visuals;
  3. Data exploration is central; The quantitative can be transformed to a visual representation of relationships in a manner much more acceptable to those without advanced mathematical training; this means simple things like biggest, average, compare character of two places.

The machine as always is good at repetitive things, so will help us deal effectively with increased students numbers in the sense that we can identify the repetitive aspects of our discussions with students; definitions, reminders of theoretical questions, thus leaving more time for particular questions.


Caution on Innovation:
  • use proven aspects of the technology rather than innovate; partly to cut development time; partly because innovative material is space and hardware greedy - e.g. the use of video and sound (although we may relax this for a few clips on urban housing).
  • for example, my ambition to use large amounts of map material for urban development together with the photographs has hit major space problems and on screen time for access.


In the industrialization section as a whole, we have tended to select broad areas of historical interest and then invite proposals within those areas in a fairly flexible manner; this has meant that we have a small group of motivated people with ideas and often ready-made source material.

The result was some unevenness in coverage. There is less European than we would like, less early modern, but it seems wise to aim for products which show a wide range of possible approaches.

  • equally we have set out general standards for production but have not sought to standardize the approach.
  • one issue that has emerged from the contrast in styles of various groups is a tension between freedom and guidance for student users;
  • at one level notion of a huge universe of information in which student can roam at will following interests and curiosities is very attractive one---in fact this is less than useful. Some units will be more didactic than others, it will be important to explore response to this;
  • For example the '18th century town' has set a series of 'tasks' for students as they approach the resources to show possibilities. The 'urbanization' group anticipates that 'pathways' of links dedicated to various themes, say 'urban improvement', ' impact of size' or 'suburbs' will provided initial guidance.
The structure of 'urbanization' is something as follows:
  • a spine which tells the story
  • opening frame gives ability to take these in whatever order wanted
  • the 'ribs' leads to extra commentary but more important to the resources
  • links are then used for cross themes
  • each rib leads to a bibliography; notion that the unit leads to the library; help identify wide variety of literature in the library and not replace.

The unit finishes with a walking tutorial which provides interpretation of part of Edinburgh's landscape, but uses links to earlier parts of the tutorial to enable the students to see the particular nature of Edinburgh in general terms and encourage them to look at their own urban landscapes as part of the wider processes involved in urbanization.