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LitMods Attend Dickens Universe 2018

September 07, 2018

On July 14, Ryerson’s LitMod students Hadia Khan and Daniela Barrera Murcia, along with Dr. Alison Hedley, arrived at University of California, Santa Cruz, to attend the 38th annual Dickens Universe (DU). As a sponsoring member of the international Consortium that runs this amazing event, Ryerson has sent representatives to help run the DU since 2013. The DU is a week-long academic conference-meets-summer-camp hybrid, with participants ranging from high school and graduate students, professors and secondary school teachers, and enthusiastic Dickensians from the international community, who gather to spend a week intensively studying a work of Charles Dickens, its cultural context, and its contemporary relevance. This year, the DU focussed on Dickens’s Little Dorrit, a novel that begins in a debtor’s prison. Little Dorrit explores social justice issues as they relate to the distribution of wealth and privilege, access to opportunity based on gender, class, and ethnicity, and power relations within families and communities. More than just an academic conference with lectures and panels, the Dickens Universe brings the 19th century to life, with activities such as Victorian dance lessons, field trips around the Charles Dickens library, and a Grand Party with all types of Victorian cakes and teas.

While Dr. Hedley led contextual seminars on the novel for DU participants, Khan and Barrera joined faculty-led activities for graduate students, including a job market session for English graduates, a publications workshop, and seminars on Little Dorrit. Whether in the classrooms, in the cafeteria, in their shared dorms, or at parties, Khan notes that they were always amongst graduate students and faculty eager to share information: “It was such an extraordinary opportunity to learn from the Victorian experts, to discuss Dickens, and to ask questions about what it is like to be a PhD student or how to become a professor after that.”

Even with a busy schedule, Khan and Barrera Murcia found time to enjoy the University of California’s beautiful redwood campus, as well as the charming city of Santa Cruz, including its boardwalk and wharf. They found the diversity of the attendees especially stimulating. Commenting on the pleasure of meeting graduate students from all over the world (i.e., the UK, France, and Israel), Barrera Murcia emphasizes: “The diverse group of individuals I met at the DU were integral to making the DU experience a highlight of my time as a graduate student at Ryerson.”

Ryerson is the only university in Canada invited to participate at Dickens Universe. Khan, Barrera Murcia, and Hedley are very grateful to the Provost and Vice-President, Academic, Michael Benarroch, as well as the Department of English and its Literatures of Modernity program, for facilitating their exciting and privileged opportunity.

News item written by Hadia Khan and Daniela Barrera Murcia