What this blog’s about

I’m Iain Crawford, Faculty Director of Undergraduate Research and Associate Professor of English at UD. This is a blog about the Dickens Universe written by three students from the University of Delaware who will be attending it this summer. I’ve asked them to write in response to a series of prompts that I’ll paste in below. They (and I) welcome responses back.

What IS the Dickens Universe? There is nothing like it. It’s a week-long residential academic conference that brings together faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, and lay lovers of Dickens. Living in dorms at UC Santa Cruz, the attendees hear a series of lectures, participate in seminars and classes, and enjoy performances related to one Dickens novel. Jill Lepore’s New Yorker article, “Dickens in Eden,” give a wonderful flavor of what the Universe is like: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/08/29/dickens-in-eden.

This year, for the 39th annual version of the Universe, the book for the week was Barnaby Rudge, the less known but fascinating historical novel about anti-Catholic riots that took place in London during the summer of 1780. UD students Megan O’Donnell (Ph.D. English), Shannon Murphy (B.A. English), and Advith Sarikonda (English and Neuroscience) traveled to Santa Cruz and took part in this unique research collaborative. This blog records their responses to the experience and to the ways knowledge is made in English studies.

Dickens Universe Conference Blog

The goals of this assignment are to help you capture the experience of the Universe for yourselves, to help you reflect upon what it shows you about how academics create knowledge in literary studies, and to develop your own analytical skills. Your audiences are both our group from UD and also the faculty and graduate students attending the Universe.

What do you have to do?

  1. Write responses to the pre and post-conference prompts.
  • During the conference, write one blog post each day of the week. Your posts should be at least 250 words long. You are welcome to write more than one post a day.
  • Your posts can be based on the prompts below, but you can also write about anything else that you find significant, surprising or that makes a strong impression on you. The important thing is that you demonstrate that you are engaging with and reflecting upon the experience, deepening your connection with it. You can also be creative about how you do this.
  • Over the course of the week, respond at least once to the others’ posts, engaging in a conversational style but with specific detail and purpose. You are welcome to respond more than this and/or to respond to comments from the wider audience.


Pre-Conference prompt:

Introduce yourself briefly to an audience of readers who do not know you? What are your expectations of the conference? What do you imagine it will be like? If you could have one question answered – or at least addressed — during this week, what would it be?

Sunday lecture: What did you hear in this first lecture that intersected, elaborated or upset your reading of the novel or our pre-conference discussions? What was there in this first lecture that prompted you to want to think further/learn more? (You can also use this prompt for any of the other plenary lectures or afternoon talks.)

Using any of the talks, think about the form of the 50-minute lecture works. How does the speaker deliver their message? How does delivery relate to the argument? How did the speakers delivery enhance their message, if at all? How did it present challenges to the audience?

Use different methods to take notes on two of the talks. (notebook vs. tweets, for example) Compare how well each method works. Explain the differences. Which felt more authentic to your experience? Which do you think would be more usable for a paper or research?

Take a picture or a video of something that represents a particular moment of the Universe: what makes this image interesting or significant to your experience at the conference or understanding of the text?

Compare one of discussion-based experiences at the UD with any discussion-based class you took at UD (E110 counts, fyi). In what ways were they alike? How did they differ? Consider not just topic and expertise of the discussants, but also the purpose and the implicit or explicit rules for contribution (turn taking, indicating a desire to speak, ceding the floor, etc)

If you attend any of the workshops, how did the reality compare with your expectations? What one useful thing did you take away? What questions remain?

If you attend one of the social activities (other than the yoga!), describe the most striking thing about it and explore how it interacts with the discussions of novel that take place over the week.

Reflect upon the ways in which all the activities for the week (and you can include the yoga here) seem to describe the scholarly life/person.

Post-conference prompt:

What are you taking away from this experience?

At the end of the week, how have your perceptions of any of the following changed:

  • The meaning and form of the novel (you should narrow this down to something specific)
  • The way knowledge is created in literary studies
  • Dickens as an author, figure, and object of attention

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