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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Anna Marie Cox
Congratulations on honors well-deserved!
Senior English major Shanae Giles reflects on her second English internship, which took her from FMU’s Florence, South Carolina campus all the way to Ecuador. Shanae completed the internship through the department’s professional writing program. Dr. Hanson directs the professional writing program and oversees all professional writing internships.
As a senior here at FMU who is preparing to graduate this upcoming December, I am faced with that one, constant, looming question:
“So, what do you plan to do after you graduate?”
This used to be an easy question for me to answer. My answer was finite and simple; it fell right in line with my goal of achieving the American Dream. My answer was acceptable and understandable.
Well, until I traveled to Ecuador, South America, for my second English internship.
I’d always wanted to study abroad, but I was already in my senior year and I needed to start gaining real work experience. I never imagined that I could travel to Ecuador to create technical writing documents for the Wildsumaco Biological Station.
And suddenly, the world was round.
That was when I realized that English majors and writers are needed everywhere. We can write about anything and can convince anyone to pay us to write for them. I love nature and biology and I was finally able to combine that with my love for writing. Despite popular belief, the career options for an English major are endless. All you have to do is prove that you’re needed.
So now when I’m faced with that inevitable question:
“So, what do you plan to do after you graduate?”
I simply reply:
“Anything I want to do.”
–Shanae Giles, senior English major (Professional Writing)
Senior English major Shanae Giles traveled to Ecuador this summer to complete a professional writing internship at the Wildsumaco Biological Station. In this post, Shanae describes how she overcame an unexpected language barrier: scientific jargon.
When I was first told that I had the opportunity to do my second English internship in Ecuador (of all of the places in the world), I literally cried from excitement. I’ve always loved the Spanish language and culture and I just couldn’t believe that my first travel abroad experience was going to be in a Spanish-speaking country. “Excited” doesn’t even begin to describe what I was feeling!
I immediately began brushing up on my Spanish. I was thankful that I’d taken a Spanish Conversation course the semester before, so I knew I was at least more fluent than my other travel companions. You know the term “social butterfly”? Well, I’d consider myself a more hyperactive version of that, like a social squirrel, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself as much if I couldn’t talk to everyone that I met, regardless of the language barrier.
Time zoomed by, as it always does, and before I knew it I was in line with my travel companions boarding our first flight on U.S. Airways. Our group consisted of myself, Stenetta (another English intern), Travis (the biology professor), and four other biology majors who were taking the Tropical Ecology class. We were all nervous, we were all excited, and we were all deep in thought of what was ahead of us.
Two hours later…”Welcome to Miami!!!”
Four hours later…”Bienvenidos a Quito!!!”
I remember the feeling that swept over me when I looked out of the window as we were approaching South America and saw the burnt orange horizon of the sunset along the edges of the country. I knew, of course, that it was not my America, but I couldn’t have imagined how “not my America” it was going to actually turn out to be.
We spent two days soaking up the culture in Quito before heading up the bumpy, scenic road through the Andes Mountains to get to the Wildsumaco Biological Station. I immediately absorbed myself in the research and biodiversity around the station and quickly realized one of the most important lessons I’d end up learning at Wildsumaco. I’d spent so much time brushing up on my Spanish language that I never realized I would be faced with another language completely foreign to me: the language of biology majors and scientists.
Instead of letting this new language overwhelm me, I tried twice as hard to remember terminology, I went to every lecture, and I asked as many questions as I could. After just a few short days, I found myself able to identify new bird species and categorize fungi almost as well as the 300-level biology majors. I went to Ecuador thinking that I would learn to be more fluent in one language, but I came back to the States more fluent in two.
Now I just wish I had taken this trip my freshman year; it sure would’ve helped me ace Biology 105!
–Shanae Giles, senior English major (Professional Writing)