Dreamers and Dissenters


How do people respond to the world they live in? When they disagree or dream of change, do they act within society's rules or against them?

This site introduces some of the visionaries, dissenters and rule breakers of past centuries.

Through a selection of sources from the British Library's collection, you can learn how these people have presented themselves and how they have been represented by others.

Language is also an important aspect of citizenship. It is a tool we can use effectively when we understand how others use it and how we use it ourselves. We have chosen a selection of texts from literature, advertising, news media and political pamphlets, to help you explore how people have used language in different ways for different reasons: to persuade or control, include or exclude.

When you look at the sources...

  • Think about the reliability of this evidence from the past (Who tells the story? Do they speak from an 'insider' or 'outsider' perspective? What is their position in relation to the structures of power, or major ideas of the time?)
  • Research similar material from recent times. Compare your findings with the sources from the past, using the same methods of analysis.
  • Think about your own position, the society you live in and the ideas that shape it. Where do you stand?


Can utopian ideas ever be realised in the real world? Are they meant to be? Explore historical visions of perfection and visions for change.


The struggle for democracy

In 1928, men and women were given equal voting rights for the first time. Find out about the Chartists, Suffragists and Suffragettes who campaigned for this right.


Counter Culture

Explore countercultural pamphlets, handbooks, fanzines and underground newspapers that helped to promote action, gather support and inspire change.


Concerns about crime

How do we treat people that break the rules? How do we represent them? Explore historical attitudes and opinions about crime, punishment, criminals and their victims.


Our language

Language is a tool with many functions. Explore how language can vary according to who you are, where you are and who you’re talking to.


Filth and Fever

Explore what life was like for the poor in Victorian cities and find out about the 1840s campaign for public health reform.