Victorians for sale! Has advertising changed from Victorian times?

Teacher's notes

This collection of Victorian advertisements is aimed at any teacher or student engaged in a local study of the Victorian period. The sources could be used to help provide a sense of period and show pupils the type of source material they might find in their local archive, museum or record office. The collection could be used alongside the Victorian lives collection on this website to give further insight into the Victorian home life. The adverts show, to some extent, how and who might have cleaned the home, how the Victorians had fun and how some products were sold. There are also questions with a specific literary focus on the language of advertising included here.

These documents can be used alongside our interactive Victorians website which also contains a huge number of sources on the period from The National Archives and objects from Victoria and Albert Museum. It would be helpful for the pupils to watch the opening video in Start here on our Victorians website before looking at the sources to get the most out of the questions and activities as well as looking at general guidance questions below on how to evaluate and understand documents. The entire collection plus transcripts can be downloaded as a zip file, to make them easy for you to use in the classroom.

What type of document is it? (e.g. letter, report, photograph or newspaper).
Can you find a date?
What is the document saying?
Check the meaning of any words you are unsure about.
What names appear in the document?
Does the document show the writer's opinions/values?
Are there any clues about the intended audience for the document?
Why was the document written?
Does it have any limitations?
Does it link to other documents in the group?
Does it share the same ideas, attitudes and arguments?
How would you explain any differences between these documents?

Teachers may want to break their class up into groups and get students to feed back on a selection of documents and/or annotate them at the white board. Others may wish to introduce pupils to these documents to create a wider enquiry question of their own, for example on the role of women, domestic service, consumer culture and so on.
Alternatively, teachers may wish to use the collection to develop their own resources or encourage students to 'curate' their own 'exhibition' of the most significant sources on the Victorian period. 
  
Finally, for more suggestions on how to carry out a local study use our video guidance in the Victorians website.

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Questions and activities

  • Which products are advertised to help Victorians keep their homes clean? Would this have been easy? Give your reasons.
  • What advertisements for household goods suggest life was becoming more comfortable?
  • Use these advertisements to write a short play/dialogue about day in the life of domestic servant.
  • What can we learn from these adverts about Victorian clothing, refer to particular examples.
  • What advertisements give us clues about how the Victorians had fun?
  • Print out the sources and sort them into different themes/topics. Compare and discuss your choices to those of a friend.
  • Which do you think is the most interesting source in the whole collection here? Make your case to the rest of the class.
  • Can you draw any conclusions about Victorian values and attitudes from these sources? Do we see the world differently to them? Explain your answer
  • Literary focus question: Choose any three advertisements:

a) Do the posters use slogans? Give examples.
b) Do they use powerful/forceful words? Give examples.
c) Do they appeal to feelings and emotions? Give examples.
d) How do the posters use humour? Give examples.
e) How do the posters use different font sizes? Give examples.
f) How do the posters use colour to help make their point? Give examples.
g) Which do you think is the most persuasive poster? (Clue: How the advertisement tries to change a person's mind or way of thinking) Give your reasons, using the questions above to help.
h) Are the posters aimed at different types of audience (men, women, children or all groups)?
i) Do you think these Victorian advertisements are they different/similar to those of today? Give reasons for your answer.

Links to the National Curriculum for history

Key stage 2
Local history study
For example:
• A study over time tracing how several aspects national history are reflected in the locality (this can go beyond 1066)
• A study of an aspect of history or a site dating from a period beyond 1066 that is significant in the locality
• A study of an aspect or theme in British history that extends pupils' chronological knowledge beyond 1066

Key stage 3
Local history study
For example:
• A depth study linked to one of the British areas of study
• A study over time, testing how far sites in their locality reflect aspects of national history (some sites may predate 1066)
• A study of an aspect of history or a site dating from a period before 1066 that is significant in the locality

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Advertising on Victorian buses

To view this film, you will require Adobe Flash 9 or higher and must have Javascript enabled.

Related resources

External links