The age of discovery


Blame Margaret Thatcher. Her call for a "return to Victorian values" managed to typecast an entire era. Instead of being seen as one of the most complex and intensively creative periods in the history of art, literature, science and technology, the slogan turned the Victorian age into a shallow soundbite, a moral stereotype. "Victorian" has become a shorthand in political discourse for either a rose-tinted "Good Old Days" or an uncaring age of children down mines, hypocritical heads of household, Jack the Ripper and London smog. Yet it was also an intensely creative period for the arts and sciences in these islands. Check out:

the literature, from Lewis Carroll's Alice to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Bram Stoker's Dracula;

major milestones in science such as Darwin's theory of evolution, alongside an upsurge in amateur research;

the birth of modern communications with the telegraph and the transatlantic cable - the first electric networks. Hardly a decade after the Famine, the cable was laid from Valentia in Co Kerry to Newfoundland, an incredible feat of navigation and engineering which author Arthur C. Clarke has compared to the Apollo mission in its scale and imagination.

Most of the great media of our century can be traced back to a steady stream of inventions in Europe and North America during the 19th century, from photography and radio to the cinema, and even the computer has its roots in that era, in the work of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace.

The following is a timeline of some of the most significant landmarks in the development of these media technologies during the extraordinary age of Queen Victoria (1819-1901).