This past July, Professors Nancy Henry and Gerard Cohen-Vrignaud, and graduate students Josh Dobbs, Rochelle Davis, and Alli Clymer attended Dickens Universe at the University of California-Santa Cruz. This year’s conference centered on Dicken’s 1857 novel Little Dorrit, which raised cross-disciplinary questions about Dickens, Victorian studies, and the field’s role in academia more generally.
Nancy Henry has been taking graduate students with her to the “Universe” since 2009, when she joined the UTK faculty. Jonathan Grossman (UCLA), the first co-organizer of this event, along with Helena Michie (Rice University) selected such lecturers as Sukanya Banerjee (University of Wisconsin), Kathleen Frederickson (UC Davis), Peter Logan (Temple University), Daniel Stout (University of Mississippi), Sharon Weltman (Louisiana State University) and Jason Rudy (University of Maryland) to provide fascinating lectures on Little Dorrit.
Henry, Clymer, Davis and Dobbs enjoying an evening at the Santa Cruz Warf
In-between the the lectures that bookended most days, Universe scholars from across the world participated in literary and professional seminars, workshops, and various other activities.
Graduate student Rochelle Davis attended a graduate student seminar led by Nora Gilbert (University of North Texas) and Rae Greiner (Indiana University, Bloomington):
“The seminar provided a similar atmosphere to a classroom. Typically, we spent time discussing the topics brought up during the lectures and discussions within the conference. We also spent time dissecting areas we felt were overlooked. Discussion tended to quite lively, jumping from topics of Maggie’s narratological purpose to Arthur Clenham’s reliability as a narrator. Nora and Rae led and contributed to helpful discussions while also keeping us on topic as we meandered through and around the to make it through the ‘topics to discuss’ list we covered the chalkboard with during our first meeting.”
Josh Dobbs also attended the same seminar:
“This week-long seminar was small, about 10-15 graduate students, which allowed us to discuss the novel in-depth, much as we would in the classroom. The faculty members lent their research and experience to the discussion, but also gave the graduate students the opportunity to ask the questions about the novel that had been plaguing us and to focus discussions around themes and characters that intrigued us. This also proved to be a great complement to the daily lectures, allowing us to further explore concepts brought up in the lectures and panels, or to discuss the scenes and characters otherwise absent from the presentations that week.”
Rochelle also participated in a conference presentation workshop led by Zoe Beenstock (University of Haifa) and Chip Tucker (University of Virginia):
“Chip and Zoe led a helpful conference presentation workshop that not only helped early-stage speakers but also graduate students preparing for job talks. Each graduate student attendee gave a five-minute presentation, and the rest of the participants provided helpful feedback. On the last day of workshop, we delivered our presentations in the main lecture hall.”
Josh Dobbs also participated attended a pedagogy workshop led by Iain Crawford (University of Delaware) and Michael Shaw (University of Kent):
“We discussed undergraduate research, its importance in undergraduate education, and how to integrate it into our undergraduate classes in a meaningful way for our students. We also discussed how to make our Victorian literature courses more accessible to, as well as more rewarding and fruitful experiences for, our students. We identified problems and challenges for our students as they read Victorian literature, such as a lack of comprehension of the history leading up to the works or their cultural contexts, the length of the works, and the tension between canon and diversity. But, not content to leave us wallowing in problems, the instructors demonstrated how we could confront some of these challenges through methods such as student-led presentations, the inclusion of supplementary material in the reading list, and better selection of editions in the reading list.”
Josh also attended a seminar on delivering conference papers led by Logan Browning (Rice University) and Jonathan Grossman (UC Los Angeles):
“Browning and Grossman, the respective editors of SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 and Nineteenth-Century Literature, gave us an insider’s look into their selection and peer-review processes. They gave us helpful tips on how to research journals’ personalities to find the best fit for our articles, told us key issues that they commonly have to address with submissions, answered our publication questions, and reminded us to be patient with the process.”
Alli Clymer, Hannah Fogerty, and Rachel Cason, the 2018 Cruise Directors
Graduate student Alli Clymer, however, took on a different role at this year’s Dickens Universe. Serving as a “Senior Cruise Director” or graduate social organizers, along with Hannah Fogarty (University of Buffalo) and Rachel Cason (University of Mississippi):
“As a Dickens Universe Cruise Director, I planned and facilitated daily events for graduate and faculty to network and socialize during this week-long conference. Our ultimate goal was to provide fun and innovative opportunities for attendees to engage creatively and collaboratively with this year’s selected novel, Little Dorrit, and cultivate meaningful social and professional relationships.”
Although most of the Dickens Universe days were filled with lectures, talks, workshops, and seminars, the UTK attendees also made time for the Universe’s festive activities, including PPPs (post-prandial potations), Victorian high teas, a Grand Party filled with extravagant cheeses and desserts, and a Victorian dance (with period dress, music, and dancing!).
Students who attend the Universe are also fully funded for attendance at the corresponding Dickens Project Winter Conference the following year.
**UT students need not be specialists in Dickens or even in Victorian literature to attend the conference, but students who have attended the Universe have also participated in the Nineteenth-Century British Research Seminar. Applications to represent UTK at the Dickens Universe are usually solicited in February by Professor Nancy Henry.**