FMU Patriots Attend Dickens Universe

In this joint-authored post, Dr. Catherine England and English majors Thomas Wampler and Meagan Hooks recount their trip to Dickens Universe, an annual event in Santa Cruz, California. 

There’s a foggy, seaside town in California where scholars, students, and enthusiasts gather to discuss, analyze, and enjoy Charles Dickens’s works every August for a week. It’s called the Dickens Universe, and it has been hosted by the University of California, Santa Cruz for thirty-four successful years. I was lucky enough to take Thomas Wampler and Meagan Hooks, two FMU English majors, to this event last summer because of the generous support of FMU’s REAL Grant program. We attended lectures, seminars, and workshops to enrich our knowledge of Dickens, Victorian culture, and the field of English Studies more broadly. I am excited for Thomas and Meagan to tell you more about the Universe and their wonderful experiences in their own words!

Thomas, Meagan, and Dr. England at Dickens Universe

Thomas, Meagan, and Dr. England at Dickens Universe

What is the Dickens Universe?

One of the organizers of the Dickens Universe calls it a combination of a “scholarly conference, festival, book club, and summer camp,” and it lives up to that billing. Each year the Universe focuses its lectures, seminars, and other events on one novel by Charles Dickens. In 2014, the Universe focused on Dickens’s final, completed novel, Our Mutual Friend, a dark work that takes its readers from scenes of dead bodies floating in the Thames to massive heaps of “dust” (something like a Victorian landfill) as it explores the relationships between life and death as well as money and filth.

At the Universe, top scholars powerfully deliver lectures once or twice each day, and between these lectures, participants attend seminars and workshops lead by English faculty and graduate students from all over the world. It is an opportunity to listen and learn from others while formulating and expressing your own ideas about literature. As an added bonus, you get to stay in beautiful Santa Cruz with access to unbelievable views of the mountains, the Redwoods, and the Pacific Ocean. This unique event concludes its scholarly conversation by embracing whimsical fun with a Victorian ball on the final night, during which you can, despite your jeans and T-shirts, learn and practice nineteenth-century dances. The Dickens Universe provides daily intellectual stimuli, a very busy schedule, and the opportunity to learn all about Charles Dickens, the Victoria era, and contemporary scholarship.

Reading under the Redwoods at Dickens Universe

Reading under the Redwoods at Dickens Universe

Thomas’s Experience

One of the most exciting things that happened to me while attending the 34th Annual Dickens Universe was the opportunity to interact with Professor Jessica Kuskey. Dr. England, as part of our summer preparation before attending the conference, had us read “Our Mutual Engine: The Economics of Victorian Thermodynamics” by Kuskey. We were required to summarize the article and also prepare a basic response in support or disagreement with Kuskey’s work. I found out the first day we arrived at Dickens Universe that I was going to be in Kuskey’s seminar. I had the opportunity to discuss her paper in class and later one-on-one. She answered my questions and proved as kind as she was smart. She took the time to tell me her thought process in writing the paper and how she eventually “stumbled” upon the subject of thermodynamics, which was not originally her topic.

Another aspect of the Universe that struck me was how international its make-up was. In my morning seminar, there was a student from Japan. In my mid-morning session, there was a participant from Australia, and the session was led by a graduate student originally from India. In all my classes we had a variety of people from all over the United States: Colorado, Washington State, Washington, D.C., Maine, New York, Iowa, Hawaii, to name just a few. The fact that I was exposed to so many different people with different backgrounds only enhanced the educational and cultural experience.

reading thomas and meagan

Meagan’s Experience

I really enjoyed my graduate-student led discussion group at the Dickens Universe. This open forum was great for allowing participants to delve deeply into Our Mutual Friend and analyze critically through close reading and class discussion. In these forums, I was able to learn a lot from the grad students along with my fellow classmates, who all brought unique perspectives. I feel confident I will be able to apply what I learned from my experience in my own English studies, and hope to be able to apply teaching strategies in the future when I may have students of my own.

There was much more to Dickens Universe than just the classroom, however. One of my favorite activities was the Grand Ball on the last night of the conference, during which we were taught traditional Victorian dances. The dance was a great way to have fun and socialize with other participants, as well as get a taste for Victorian culture. Overall, Dickens Universe was a truly unique academic experience unlike anything else.

Welcome, Dr. Spear!

Earlier in the semester, the Department of English announced the appointment of several new faculty members. In this post, we get to know Dr. Spear as part of an ongoing “Q and A” series with our recent faculty additions. 

Q: What can you share about your research area and your current projects?

A: My research deals with writing as a form of healing, for self and for others, and pulls from expressive therapy theories as well as autobiographical and trauma studies.  I focus primarily on contemporary nonfiction texts by women authors who write about their traumatic experiences, including, but not limited to, illness and rape.  One of my current projects examines a specific rape narrative, where the author blurs her personal story with a cultural call for change.  Arguing that society’s dominant narrative silences rape stories and weaving her different storylines together, the author constructs a clever text, filled with stylistic choices aimed towards restoring her own agency as well as invoking a shift in how others perceive and discuss rape.

Q: What text has been most influential in your teaching?

A: While a number of texts come immediately to mind, I can, without a doubt, say that two have and will continue to have huge impacts on my teaching: Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and bell hooks’s Teaching to Transgress.  Also, I should note that Henri J. M. Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer offered a framework for how I think about teaching and its purposes, being instrumental in my conception of a “wounded healer pedagogy,” a pedagogy that I outline to focus on healing and compassion through the use of personal stories.

Q: How might students explain your teaching style or your course?

A: I cannot speak for my students, and they would be better at answering this particular question.  However, I can share that students’ comments have been positive and often highlight the challenge as well as the gain.  To explain, I do hold students to high standards, and they constantly impress me.  Also, I encourage them to be active participants in the course as well as their learning process, and together, every student assists in creating our classroom dynamic.  In addition, I know I carefully construct courses to cover the material while working with informal and formal writing assignments, layering a number of objectives, and encouraging personal investment.

Q: What are you currently reading?

A: I spent my summer reading a number of books by some talented writers.  A couple included Jemyn Ward’s Men We Reaped, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, and Michael Cunningham’s The Snow Queen.  I had such an ambitious list.  Sadly, I have not had the chance to finish everything on that list, but currently, I am enjoying Mark Doty’s Heaven’s Coast: A Memoir and Andrew Malan Milward’s The Agriculture Hall of Fame.

Q: What is one of your talents or an interesting fact about you that tends to surprise your students or colleagues?

A: I like to think that I am full of hidden talents and random facts, but perhaps an easy answer to this question is that once upon a time, I played basketball.  I also danced, so I had the most graceful layups on the court.

 

Fall 2014 English Film Series

The Fall Film Series has a wonderful line-up this semester. Take a look at the schedule below. Faculty and students with questions about the film series should contact organizer Dr. Smolen-Morten

From the 1941 trailer for _The Maltese Falcon_ showing Humphrey Bogart. Image in the public domain.

From the 1941 trailer for _The Maltese Falcon_ showing Humphrey Bogart. Image in the public domain.

September 23, 2014.  John Huston, The Maltese Falcon (1941) 100 mins.

Hard-noised private detective Sam Spade unravels the tangled plots of an unsavory lot chasing a jewel encrusted statue. Quintessential film noir: dark alleys, a femme fatale, justified paranoia, and an American culture bereft of a moral compass. Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet.

3:35 & 7:30 pm, Lowrimore Auditorium, Cauthen Educational Media Center.

October 21, 2014.  Jean-Marc Vallée, Dallas Buyers Club (2013) 117mins.*

With 67 awards, including Oscars for best actor and supporting actor, this biopic entertains and challenges audiences. Suffering from AIDS, Ron Woodroof brings unapproved and illegal drugs into Texas, where he sells them to other AIDS victims and learns compassion for people he had rejected.

3:35 & 7:30 pm, Lowrimore Auditorium, Cauthen Educational Media Center.

On the set of _The Seventh Seal_ in 1957. Photo in the public domain.

On the set of _The Seventh Seal_ in 1957. Photograph in the public domain.

November 18, 2014. Ingmar Bergman, The Seventh Seal (1957) 96 mins.

A cult classic, The Seventh Seal made Bergman an international star and the darling of the European avant-garde. A medieval knight returns to his native Sweden, where he grapples with existential questions, like the existence and nature of God, and plays chess with Death. A must see for film buffs.

3:35 & 7:30 pm, Lowrimore Auditorium, Cauthen Educational Media Center.

*Dallas Buyer’s Club will be presented with help from FMU Gender Studies.

Conference Opportunity for FMU English Majors (Deadline Passed)

The deadline for this opportunity has passed, but you can read more about the fully-funded trip Dr. English and two FMU English majors took to Dickens Universe.

Calling All English Majors!

Apply for a full-funded trip to the Dickens Universe Conference at the University of California, Santa Cruz from August 2-9, 2014. 

Email letters of interest to Dr. England by April 24th, 2014. More information on the application process and the Dickens Universe can be found below and on this flyer.

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The Dickens Universe

The Dickens Universe is a unique week-long conference that focuses on one work by the Victorian writer Charles Dickens each year. This format allows its participants to fully prepare for an in-depth, scholarly experience that will include lectures by outstanding professionals in the field, discussions groups, and even Victorian-themed activities (yes, there will be lots of tea and even a ball).

For FMU English majors interested in increasing their knowledge of English Studies and who have experience reading nineteenth-century literature, this is an incomparable opportunity to learn from leading scholars while also experiencing the Pacific Ocean views, redwood forests, and California culture of Santa Cruz.

For more information, visit the Dickens Universe website or watch “The Dickens Project Mini Documentary” on YouTube.

Dr. England, Trip Coordinator

Dr. England (a three-time veteran of the Universe) will be accompanying selected students and preparing them for this year’s conference on Our Mutual Friend through reading and writing activities.

Application Process

To apply, send a short email to c e n g l a n d [at] f m a r i o n [dot] e d u by April 24th. Your email should briefly describe your career goals and past experience with British nineteenth-century literature. Strong candidates will be asked for an interview. All majors (including graduating seniors) are strongly encouraged to apply. 

Apply today! The application deadline is April 24th.

Students Learn About Upcoming Courses During Biannual “Pastries With the Professors”

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Every semester before registration, the English and Modern Languages faculty host “Pastries With the Professors.” The event offers English majors and minors and prospective majors and minors the opportunity to speak with their professors, look into future course offerings, and partake in delicious breakfast treats.

During this semester’s “Pastries With the Professors,” organized by Dr. Nancy Zaice and other faculty members, thirty-six students rubbed elbows with thirty-four faculty, chowed down on an assortment of doughnuts, doughnut holes, and pastries, and sipped on coffee, juice, milk, or chocolate milk.

As you can tell from the pictures, everyone had a great time. Hope to see you there next semester!

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–Post and photographs courtesy of English Department Instructor Ms. Margaret McGill Floyd

2014 English Awards and Sigma Tau Delta Induction

On April 10, members of the FMU university community convened to honor the recipients of the 2014 English Awards, including those students whose work was selected for next year’s edition of Final Draft. Inductees to the FMU chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honors Society, also were honored.

Student Recipients of the 2014 English Awards

Excellence in Coursework

PERCY ADAMS AWARD, Amanda Graham
J. P. BROCKBANK AWARD, Melody Pritchard
KATHARINE S. BOLING MEMORIAL AWARD IN FICTION, David Guess & Janaya Hammond
ROBERT R. PARHAM POETRY AWARD, Nikki Clark
RICHARD B. LARSEN MEMORIAL AWARD, Tiara Felder
ENGLISH AWARD, Melody Pritchard & Cristin Richards

Excellence in Composition Courses

MCCRIMMON AWARD
Cameron Poole, “EA Games Has Begun a Slippery Slope”

ENGLISH 111 AWARD 
Kaylee Jarrett, “Beverly”

ENGLISH 112 AWARD
Stacey King, “Wanna Play?”

ENGLISH 200 AWARD
Connor Wessel, “During Normal Growth, Inflation Negates the Effects of Minimum Wage on Low-Wage Employment”

Exemplary Essayists Selected for Publication in Final Draft

Jasmine Thomas, “Preparing for College”
Kristen Pianks, “America and Unhealthy Foods”
Sherry Chichester, “The Taboo of Sex”
Mary Mulholland, “Copyright Reform for the Music Industry”
Marc Phillips, “WikiLeaks: The Evolution of Espionage?”

2014 Sigma Tau Delta Inductees

London Barnhill
Benton Boyd
Summer Bradham
Chandler Bundy
Anna Chinnes
Ann Cook
Anna Marie Cox
Jazmyne Eggleston
Brantley Farmer
Shanae Giles
Megan Hooks
Colleen Kennedy
Deanna Lowery
Triece Meyers
Katrina Powell
Deloris Samuel
Casey Sanders
Grant Toth
Chicara Williams

Congratulations on honors well-deserved!

Faculty Research: Dr. Michelle Veenstra Discusses “Mindful Learning”

Dr. Michelle Veenstra, Assistant Director of the Writing Program, recently gave a talk to FMU faculty about the interplay among mindfulness, learning, and teaching. 

She presented her talk, “Mindful Learning in the Age of Distraction: How Students and Professors Can Become More Present in the Twenty-First Century,” as part of FMU’s Humanities and Social Sciences Symposium. The Symposium is held monthly and features works-in-progress by FMU faculty members.

Dr. Veenstra advises professors and students begin class together with three minutes of meditation in which one:

  • Focuses on the breath or breathing in and out
  • Lets thoughts come and go so as to remain in the present moment

Mindfulness, as Dr. Veenstra suggests in her talk, may improve attention, critical thinking skills, and even capacity for innovation and creativity.

Watch Dr. Veenstra’s talk in its entirety below to learn more about the research behind mindful learning. Dr. Veenstra also discusses how she used meditation in her English 200 classroom during the Spring 2013 semester.