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Ryerson at Dickens Universe 2016

By: Erin Della Mattia, with assistance from Rebecca Thursten and Lorrain Janzen Kooistra,
October 01, 2016

This past summer, amongst quasi-mystical redwood forests, people from all walks of life gathered for Dickens Universe, an annual week-long conference held at the University of California, Santa Cruz campus. Though they congregate in the name of Dickens – and, this year, in the name of Dombey and Son (who, as we discovered, “was a daughter after all!”) – the primary goal of the Universe is not only to discuss new Dickens scholarship, but to support, encourage, and train emerging literary researchers – the graduate and undergraduate students selected to attend the conference. The graduate participants of 2016 attended a variety of keynote lectures – covering everything from the use of digital humanities in literary research to the embodiment of memory and compassion in Dombey – and took part in professional-skills development workshops and discussion seminars. Ryerson’s representative from the MA in Literatures of Modernity, Erin Della Mattia, explains that the Dickens Universe experience is unlike any other conference. “It’s a very intense week of learning, but also of feeling like you are involved in the academic community in a really social, fully-engaged way. You get to talk to so many people, and they’re all so enthusiastic about different things, so you gain a greater sense of the scope of academia.” The academic publishing and dissertation-writing workshops that she was able to attend have done a lot to help demystify those processes, Erin notes, and give her more confidence as she continues on to doctoral studies. “Meeting, talking to, and learning from researchers whose work I admire was also pretty awesome,” she says.

Ryerson was also represented by Rebecca Thursten, a graduate of the Literatures of Modernity program who was given the opportunity to return to Dickens Universe as a Cruise Director in charge of organizing informal social activities for the graduate students. “Attending the Dickens Universe as a graduate student participant in 2015 was one of the definitive experiences of my MA,” Rebecca says, “and I'm so glad I was able to come back this year as a Cruise Director. The people I've met in my two years at Dickens Universe are incredibly important to me, and have been a constant in my academic life as I transitioned from studying and working at Ryerson to starting my PhD at New York University. I can't wait to catch up with everyone at the Winter Conference in Kentucky in 2017, and I'd strongly encourage this year's Literatures of Modernity cohort look into Dickens Universe and consider applying for 2017.”

English Professor Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, who attended with the grad students, notes that Ryerson is the only Canadian member of the consortium of universities that runs the Dickens Universe. “It’s thanks to the ongoing support of the Provost,” she explains, “that our graduate students have access to this amazing international experience, combining research, teaching, professionalization, and social life on the beautiful Santa Cruz Campus, set in a redwood forest overlooking the Pacific.”