2015 Dickens Universe

This summer, UT’s Professor Nancy Henry and graduate students Kat Powell and Alli Clymer attended Dickens Universe at the University of California-Santa Cruz. Nancy Henry, who just completed a term as the Professional Relations Director on the Executive Committee of the Dickens Project, has been taking two students with her to the “Universe” since 2009, when she joined the UT faculty.This year’s UT participants also attended a three-day conference prior to the Universe titled “The Long Wide Nineteenth Century,” which featured a series of talks, panels, and synthesis sessions discussing the spatial and temporal concerns of the field.

Dickens Universe brings together scholars from around the world and across multiple literary fields. This year’s event featured transnational scholarship inspired by the two Dickens works selected for 2015, Martin Chuzzlewit and American Notes. 

Left to right: Nancy Henry, Kat Powell, Alli Clymer

Left to right: Nancy Henry, Kat Powell, Alli Clymer

In-between the fascinating lectures that book-ended every day at the Universe, this year’s UT attendees also participated in nineteenth-century scholarship through a range of intellectual and professional activities.

Professor Nancy Henry taught a graduate student seminar with Joseph Lavery (UC Berkeley) on Martin Chuzzlewit and American Notes. She also presented a paper titled “Liverpool Connections” in a panel on “Exchanges and Networks” during “The Long Wide Nineteenth Century” conference. Henry is currently co-organizing the 2016 Universe on Dombey and Son with James Adams of Columbia University.

Graduate student Kat Powell attended a graduate student seminar led by Claire Jarvis (Stanford) and Michael Cohen (UCLA). Besides discussing this year’s texts, the faculty leaders also introduced the daily lectures into class discussion. Students had the opportunity to examine the lectures meta-critically, identifying the various methodologies and evaluating how evidence was selected, arranged, and presented. Kat also participated in a writing workshop directed by Jill Galvan (Ohio SU) and Renée Fox (UC Santa Cruz). A group of five students shared and discussed writing from a variety of academic genres including seminar papers, articles, and fellowship applications. Kat had this to say about the experience:

“The graduate seminar was helpful on multiple levels. The faculty leaders, Claire and Michael responded to the needs of the class, opening up discussion to include the lectures. They used the assigned primary texts to help us sort out the talks by characterizing the speakers’ choices in intervention, use of primary and secondary evidence, organization, and delivery. Re-engineering the class in this way allowed us to process the talks as a group. It also helped us to consider how and why we make the choices we do in our own work.

“The writing workshop was invaluable. Having a range of writing genres to discuss allowed us to think about the different requirements in a range of academic writing styles and what constitutes successful writing within those various genres. I received such helpful feedback on my work and enjoyed reading and responding to the interesting work of peers outside of my department. As a result, I established working relationships that will continue beyond ‘the Universe’.”

Graduate student Alli Clymer took part in a pedagogy seminar led by Priti Joshi (University of Puget Sound) and Susan Zieger (UC Riverside) and attended the “Publication” professionalization workshop given by Peter Capuano (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), editor of Nineteenth-Century Literature Jonathan Grossman (UCLA), and Ruth Livesey (Royal Holloway, University of London), who serves as an editor for the Journal of Victorian Culture. Alli reflects on her experience:

“The pedagogy seminar gave me the opportunity to workshop a syllabus for a 19th-century literature course I’m hoping to teach in the near future. The seminar leaders, fellow graduate students, as well as a guest panel of professors in the field provided me with invaluable insights into what it is like to teach 19th-century literature at various types of institutions.”

“The publication professionalization seminar was an incredible experience. With an intimate group of 15 graduate students, I was able to talk to journal editors who answered questions about the practicalities of the submission process, demystified the article selection process, and opened up a dialogue about what they believe to be vital components of a successful article. This seminar was invaluable and left me energized to revisit my own projects with new knowledge about publishing in the field.”

The UT participants also made time throughout the week for the Universe’s festive activities, including PPPs (post-prandial potations), Victorian high teas, a Grand Party filled with extravagant cheeses and desserts (where even a power outage couldn’t darken the mood), and a Victorian dance (with period dress, music, and dancing!).

Jill Lepore (Harvard Univ) lectures on

Jill Lepore (Harvard) lectures on “Pickwick in America”

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 will be held at the University of California-Davis on March 18-20, and will be organized by Kathleen Frederickson (UC Davis), Elizabeth Miller (UC Davis), and graduate student coordinator Michael Martel.

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.