May 30, 2005
Internationally renowned Dickens Project
celebrates 25th year at UCSC
By Scott Rappaport
San Francisco Chronicle book critic David Kipen recently
observed that the Dickens
Project at UCSC may just be literary Californias
Literature professor John Jordan, director of the
Dickens Project, and project coordinator JoAnna Rottke
Photo: Scott Rappaport
The project is nationally and internationally recognized as
the premier center for Dickens studies in the world and is one
of the leading sites for research on 19th-century British culture.
A scholarly consortium headquartered at UCSC, it consists of
faculty and graduate students from eight general campuses of
the University of California, as well as from 16 other major
American and international universities--including the City
University of New York, Stanford, MIT, Vanderbilt, USC, Princeton,
Rice, NYU, Columbia, the University of Exeter in Britain, and
the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Founded in 1981 to stimulate collaborative research on the
writings, cultural impact, and life of novelist Charles Dickens,
as well as the Victorian age in general, the Dickens Project
has gone on to cosponsor international conferences in Israel,
France, South Africa, Italy, Great Britain, and Australia. It
also publishes educational materials on Dickens and other Victorian
writers and has produced three teaching resource kits in collaboration
with the BBC, in addition to hosting numerous seminars and workshops
for teachers, supporting the professional development of countless
graduate students, and serving as an international clearinghouse
for Dickens scholarship.
But the undisputed heart of the project is the Dickens Universe,
a weeklong event held each summer among the redwood trees at
UCSC that brings together college faculty, graduate students,
high school teachers, undergraduates, Elderhostel participants,
and members of the general public to focus on the study of one
particular Dickens novel. The Dickens Universe combines elements
of a research symposium, arts festival, book club, and summer
camp all rolled into one big, unforgettable week of intellectual
When we started, we had no idea it would last this long
or continue to grow as it has, observed John Jordan, director
of the Dickens Project and professor of literature at UCSC.
I think its been so successful because Dickens
was a comic writer and a great storyteller, Jordan added.
Hes a writer concerned with important social questionspoverty,
hunger, child labor, homelessness, bureaucracy, class inequity,
marriage, and the status of women. In addition to being a novelist,
he was involved in all the social issues of his time and that
fed into his work. So through the study of Dickens, we engage
in an ongoing social commentary that is still relevant today.
The 2005 Dickens Universe will focus on the novel Little
Dorrit and culminate in a special weekend conference devoted
to the topic Dickens: Life and Afterlife. The Dickens
Universe will run from July 31 to August 6, with the weekend
conference overlapping from August 4 to 7.
Jordan noted that there will be a number of special activities
in honor of the 25th anniversary, reflecting on the history
of the Dickens Project and remembering past participants.
We will be making a special effort to bring back faculty
from the early years and graduate student alumni, he said.
It promises to be a joyous occasiona time to look
back over a remarkable history of accomplishments, but also
to set the course for a new quarter century of dynamic study
Jordan recalled the origins of the Dickens Project, which he
began in collaboration with founding director and UCSC professor
of English and comparative literature Murray Baumgarten, and
UC Riverside English professor Ed Eigner.
When we met back in 1980 at Murrays home and sketched
out the original idea for the project, we had two innovative
distinctions in mind, Jordan noted. We wanted to
include members of the general public and not limit it to just
faculty and graduate students. And we also wanted it to be different
from our own personal experiences of graduate schoolwhere
you rarely got to know different faculty or graduate students
on other campuses.
There are not many multicampus research units that exist
in the humanities, Jordan added. Were certainly
among the oldest.
For information about attending the 2005 Dickens Universe
or Dickens in the Classroom, an upcoming seminar
at UCSC for high school teachers to be held in June, contact
project coordinator JoAnna Rottke at (831) 459-2103 or e-mail
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