Category Archives: Programs of Study

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.

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.

dickens

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.

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.

Reflections of a Senior English Major in Professional Writing

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)

How to Deal: An English Major, in a Spanish Country, with Biology Majors?

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!

Signage from Ecuador. Photo courtesy of Shanae Giles.

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)

Conferences and Community: The Social Side of Academia

In this post, Dr. Veenstra describes what happens at academic conferences and notes some memorable learning experiences from conferences she’s attended. She also explores how conferences nourish vital social and intellectual communities in academia.

Every February, the University of Louisville hosts their conference on literature and culture since 1900. Almost every February, I am one of the many hundreds of academics and independent scholars that flock to the city of bourbon, basketball, and derbies. It has become a tradition for me and for many of my colleagues from graduate school, who first started attending the conference under the guidance of our advisors. In fact, it feels much like a mini-reunion each year, as we come together again, from increasingly diverse locations and jobs.

CC-licensed photo by flickr user sniggie

Once we were all in graduate school together at Michigan State University and we clung to each other out of excitement – who doesn’t love continuing conversations about Jean Baudrillard or Virginia Woolf over coffee? – or out of desperation – at the end of the semester, with 40 pages of seminar papers to write and even more grading to do, we needed all the friends and commiseration  we could find – or out of genuine affection. Indeed, I met some truly amazing people in graduate school. Not only are they smart and committed to both the intellectual life and the service of teaching, but they are also genuinely interesting people.

CC-licensed photo by flickr user lilcrabbygal

I don’t use that word lightly—interesting. What I mean to say is that they helped me see the world in a different way as we talked about literature, theory, teaching, and life. And, without exception, they knew how to laugh and make others laugh. In hindsight, I am pleased to discover that, although we were engaged in a deeply serious endeavor, we somehow managed not to take ourselves too seriously. And that makes for true character. It’s easy to get beaten down by grad school and the pressures of making it in the world, especially when you’re living on the meager wages of a graduate student and pondering the increasing difficulty of landing a job as an English professor. But if you can make it through that and be able to laugh about the absurdity that is academia  or even the absurdity of being an adult, then your character has been forged in just the right way—you remain open to the possibilities of the world, don’t ignore the harsh and unfair truths that come at you every day, and remember that we are all in this together, so we might as well make friends.

And that brings me back around to the conference. Sure, I ran into people I knew from “back in the day.” But every year I see more familiar faces that are part of a different community – the mobile collection of scholars, thinkers, and fans of literature and culture that are a distinct hallmark of academia. As a scholar of modernist literature, I also attend the Modernist Studies Association conference most years. I start to see overlap between attendees at the two conferences, and we are able to follow the development of eachother’s ideas from year to year. Some of the people I have met at conferences were introduced to me first through their papers and ideas, and then I got to meet them in person. Some of these people – often the keynote speakers – I met long ago through their writings, and it is a curious phenomenon indeed to see the physical person who has produced such work. They are all just people like us, people who started plugging away at some ideas decades ago and are still engaged in the process of searching for and creating new knowledge.

Sylvia Plath’s copy of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Photo courtesy of Dr. Veenstra. All rights reserved.

This year, I heard noted feminist scholar Jane Marcus speak about Adrienne Rich, her friend, fellow feminist, and poet who passed away last year. Afterwards, I joined her and a small group of others to see an exhibit displayed for us by the University of Louisville’s special collections librarian. Included in this display were some rare editions of books by Virginia Woolf and James Joyce.  Many of those in the library, Jane Marcus included, were thrilled to see a copy of A Room of One’s Own with Woolf’s signature on the title page. My favorite book was the copy of Woolf’s novel Orlando, which had been owned by Sylvia Plath. In the first page of the book, Plath had taped a newspaper clipping, a photo of Woolf with the caption “morbidly affected” underneath. What a delightful discovery to make – how one author, clearly influenced by Woolf herself – chose to think of this past icon, through a lens that intensified her complex and ultimately disturbing emotional life.

Why go to a conference? I am struck by the generosity of all the people I meet, people who are deeply invested in their work and in the collective endeavor of intellectual discovery that goes on display at conferences. The librarian was a scholar in her own right, and she was eager to help others with their research interests. Within the conference itself, after papers are presented, audience members often ask questions and suggest ideas that help expand the thinking of the presenter. Since there is a healthy mix of graduate students and established scholars, there are always moments when the older generation reaches out to help the younger generation in their work. Many years ago at one of the conferences of the Modernist Studies Association, I added my thoughts during the Q&A portion of a panel and mentioned that I was working on Ford Madox Ford.  Afterwards, Max Saunders – author of a biography of Ford and one-time Chair of the Ford Madox Ford Society – came up to me to express his gratitude that the younger generation was continuing work on this author in whom he was so deeply invested.

CC-licensed photo by flickr user Eric Mills

I always return from conferences reinvigorated to do my work as a scholar and a teacher. I am reminded of what I love about this field—namely, how one’s mind can get expanded over and over again by the thoughts of other people. I used to find this sensation somewhat intimidating and overwhelming, especially when it seemed to suggest that my research had only scratched the surface of something that had turned out to be much larger than I had initially imagined. I felt that there was so much to know that I had not accounted for in my research, and I despaired at ever mastering it all. Now I am pleased to realize that it’s true – the quest for knowledge is indeed endless – but it is much less solitary than it appears at first glance. At conferences, in the classroom, in coffee shops, and through the many publications that connect academics, there is a thriving community of people who take pleasure in the quest, and who invite the next generation to add their voices.