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A Victorian Sensation: the Sudan Campaign

2 October 2020

3 mins

by Rebecca Higham

Clearly, as a history student, writing essays is a necessary and considerable part of my Uni life. Unfortunately, this familiarity provides no inoculation for the campus pandemic that is ‘blank page syndrome’.  Typing those first few words is always the most daunting of tasks, no matter how thoroughly you’ve researched your topic and planned your essay. Indeed, I recently had to write a piece of coursework exploring the effect the British Empire had on Victorian popular culture and even on something I found so interesting, getting started was still a struggle. 

For this particular essay I choose to focus on the Sudan campaign and why it caused, what can only be described as, a sensation in the late Victorian era.  This ‘sensation’ transcended both politics and class as well as being a turning point in the use of warfare photography and new military tactics.  I argued that the exploits of the British Empire had an enormous impact on the popular culture at home as the campaign appealed to the Victorian lust for adventure.  I was drawn to the Sudan campaign as I knew relatively little about this subject and yet it was fascinating to see the impact it had on popular culture.  It made me wonder how many of the ‘sensations’ of today will be remembered by history. 

I began the process of writing this essay by reading as much as I could on the topic.  Richard Fulton’s article “The Sudan Sensation of 1898”[1] was especially helpful and gave me a real sense of the spirit of the period and the depth of which the events in the Sudan flooded into everyday life.  Then I began looking into more contemporary material.  This stage of the research I always find exciting as you can end up finding the most interesting and surprising facts.  The Victorian era has so much to admire and from which to learn and these studies started to come to life in my mind.

This research, along with what we’d learnt from lectures and seminars, started to form a plan and outline of the essay.  The lecture content of this module gave me a wider understanding of the British Empire and British society in the late 19th century.  Furthermore, I was able to understand how Britain saw its place in the world and how international events shaped British society and foreign policy, by using knowledge I’d acquired from other modules. 

Like many things in life, essay writing isn’t always plain sailing.  However, discovering and exploring a topic that intrigues you, will certainly make this task easier and more enjoyable.  So, my tip to anyone struggling with putting those first words on the page is to just write something, you can always go back and change it later.

Bio Hi everyone! My name is Rebecca, I am a history student and I am just starting my second year at Loughborough University.  

Image by Erik Hathaway

[1] FULTON, RICHARD. “The Sudan Sensation of 1898.” Victorian Periodicals Review 42, no. 1 (2009): 37-63. Accessed July 26, 2020.

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