2014 Dickens Universe

Recently, UT faculty and students visited sunny Santa Cruz, CA, where they attended the Dickens Universe. Professor Nancy Henry, who serves as the Professional Relations Director on the Executive Committee of the Dickens Project, has been taking two students  with her to the “Universe” since 2008, when she joined the UT faculty. She also brings one faculty member each year, and this year she brought Assistant Professor Gerard Cohen-Vrignaud before he leaves for his Fulbright Fellowship year in Morocco. Nancy co-taught a graduate seminar on this year’s text, Our Mutual Friend with Chris Pittard (University of Portsmouth, UK).


Left to right: Becky McCann, Matt Smith, Nancy Henry, Gerard Cohen-Vrignaud

Besides attending the fascinating presentations, graduate students Matt Smith and Becky McCann participated in more intimate workshops as well as a range of scholarly and festive activities. Matt attended a graduate student seminar led by Dan Bivona (Arizona State) and Peter Capuano (University of Nebraska-Lincoln). He participated in the pedagogy workshop led by Priti Joshi (University of Puget Sound) and Susan Ziegar (UC-Riverside) and attended the “Shapes of Dissertations” professionalization seminar given by Catherine Robson (NYU). Matt had this to say about his experience with the workshops: “The dissertation workshop will certainly prove invaluable when it comes time for me to begin structuring and organizing my project. The pedagogy seminar was perhaps the most fruitful, particularly the sessions we spent creating and workshopping rough drafts of syllabi for 19th-century literature courses.”

Becky took part in a writing workshop under the direction of Elisha Cohn (Cornell) and Jill Galvan (OSU). Along with five other graduate students, Becky had the opportunity to discuss and receive feedback on her current project on artificial resuscitation in Our Mutual Friend. She also spent most of her afternoons in a graduate seminar led by Claire Jarvis (Stanford) and Amanpal Garcha (OSU). During the professionalization workshops, Becky chose to attend a publishing seminar with Rae Greiner (Indiana), and editor of Victorian Studies, and Jonathan Grossman (UCLA), who serves as an editor for Nineteenth-Century Literature. Becky reflects on her experience:
“The writing workshop provided me the unique opportunity to have professors and grad students from other universities review my work. The range of interests in the group was exciting and impressive, the perspectives of my peers from other consortium schools refreshing and invaluable. I felt so fortunate to receive feedback from a group of scholars who were intimately familiar with the text with which my essay is concerned, and I enjoyed catching a glimpse of the kind of work other students are producing while reading excerpts from their dissertation chapters and the like.
“The graduate seminar was an absolute blast! Our group engaged in conversations that spanned the novel’s narrative necessities and thematic underpinnings, the daily lectures, and professional approaches to presentation and pedagogy. Again, the Universe experience–of forming relationships and working with peers and future colleagues from other consortium schools–was itself unique and altogether invaluable.
“The presentation seminar, too, proved illuminating. Professors Greiner and Grossman did a superb job of demystifying the process of publication at their respective journals. I left with a more thorough understanding of what publication entails and a clearer sense of purpose than I had coming out of similar seminars at UVA or UT.”

Graduate students and faculty also made time for the Universe’s many festivities. Participants socialize at PPPs (post-prandial potations), Victorian high tea, and even a Victorian dance (complete with quadrilles!). Matt and Becky also attended the annual play. This year thespians of all ranges participated in “OMFG: A Dickensian Travesty”–a farce performance based on Our Mutual Friend.


Becky and Matt take time to snap a photo with “Charles Dickens” post-farce

Students who attend the Universe will also be fully funded for attendance at the corresponding Dickens Project Winter Conference in Spring of the following year. This year’s Winter Conference, organized by Professor Henry and Graduate Student Conference Coordinator Kat Powell, will take place at The University of Tennessee. Next summer’s Universe will take on Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit and American Notes. 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 19th C British Research Seminar. Applications to represent UT at the Dickens Universe are usually solicited in February by Dr. Henry.