Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Magic of Bringing Dickens to His Newest Readers

The USC NAI team at the 2016 Dickens Universe at UCSC with Dr. Jon Varese

A memoir of images in our Flickr album! 

The NAI-Foshay contingency, NAI educators Jacqueline Barrios and Paul David Story, with Kenia Coyoy (NAI Alumni), Kimberly Mejia and Mauricio Garcia (NAI Alumni and winners of this year's NAI-DP Scholarship Contest) just returned from the Dickens Universe 2016,  a week long conference at UC Santa Cruz.  Needless to say, the students were riveting and  team was well received by the scholars, university faculty and general public—over 200 participants— in one of the largest, and oldest, humanities multi-campus research consortiums in the world.  

Focusing on Dombey & Son,  this year's program featured printed excerpts of only 4 individuals’ papers on the novel. These individuals were the NAI scholars and Foshay HS winners of the DP-NAI HS scholarship competition. Student papers incited conversations, found their way among possible topics for seminars, had organic tie-ins to conference talks. 

The titles of this year's winning papers are as follows:

Mauricio Garcia  
Ebb and Flow: Water, Loss and the Human in Dickens' Dombey and Son
focusing on the motif of water in the novel as a critique of modernity by foregrounding human loss 
(Will be attending Harvard University)

 Kimberly Mejia 
(Un)Happy Homes: Disrupting the Domestic in Dickens’ Dombey and Son
examining the possibilities of change presented in the unstable home space
(Will be attending USC)

Amber Johnston 
Mobile Properties: Feminizing Movement in Dombey and Son
examining how reversals in mobility reflect changing gender norms
(Will be attending USC)

Georgia Delgado 
Saving the Father:  Empathy, Critique and the Victorian Patriarchy in Dickens’ Dombey and Son
examining the ways Dombey’s characterization invites readerly sympathy and institutional critique
(Will be attending USC)

Some stories and the beginnings of a manifesto?

A graduate student expressed how the quality and clarity of each sentence of student writing impressed her and in some ways, exceeded the quality of the writing produced by the scholars of the university. 

A faculty member expressed how she uses the NAI documentary to motivate her own college students to tackle lengthy novels, citing how the video silenced any complaints and thus supported her in cultivating rigorous aims for her students. 

Participants gave feedback about NAI scholars’ performance discussion, reporting that NAI scholars’ level of engagement and receptivity to study exceeded the typical undergraduate performance

The NAI presentation/conversations uniquely brought “magic” to the Dickens Universe participants’ experience of the conference, as emotional connection to the NAI scholar’s learning brings immediate relevant, authentic and affective engagement for all participants at all levels of scholarship. 

The DP-NAI partnership is a fruitful “staging ground” for conversations around, and a “laboratory” for actions to address, the shrinking “pipeline” of young people interested in  and passionate about the humanities. Many scholars are in fact already thinking about that pipeline, and are imagining ways  their scholarship engages, directly or not, the need to more make "openings" in the field.   NAI scholars burgeoning interest in, and growing exposure to the humanities directly confronts the conflict between scholarship and  public engagement, and serves as a unique, unprecedented model for how the object of study, be it the Victorian novel or any other focus of academic research,  can reach the underrepresented student that NAI’s work daily touches.  

In other words, the NAI scholar not only heightens the rigor of the academic discourse, but imparts singularity and deepens implications for learning.  Their presence in spaces of higher education not only literalizes the possibilities of college access (their very attendance symbolizes the reality of first generation achievement) but renders the abstract values of diversity, inclusion and humanism tangible, embodied, relational, and thus, inspirational. 

Notable Buzz

“When I once thought of literary analysis as something that could only be achieved through one medium, I now realize that literature can be studied through a variety of formats—by focusing on the novel’s contextual history, by using code to find patterns and repetitions in a novel or among novels, or by attempting to replicate the serialization gap in Dickens’ novels, etc. Despite being confident in my interest to study Molecular and Cellular Biology, this is my first experience that made me much more open to a career in English. There exists no one-size-fit-all method to analyzing literature and that personally makes the English field much more attractive to me.” From Mauricio’s post-DU blog entry.

“It was great to meet [the NAI-DP group]this past Dickens Universe. DU felt more than usually magical to me this time around, and I think knowing more about this program was a part of that. " From DU faculty member.
"Thanks for sending me your essay on Dombey, which I read with pleasure and found very interesting. I asked to be your mentor because, after seeing the title of your paper, I thought that you would be addressing some issues that are important for me and that I will discuss in my Dickens Universe lecture on Monday morning I was correct. We are thinking along similar lines.” From DU faculty mentor feedback letter to NAI student.

“In the end I think the most important thing we can do as English teachers is to show students why literature continues to matter. It's less and less clear to me that that's something that can be accomplished entirely within the space of the modern, private university." -From English professor, a partner faculty from a  previous humanities collaborative project with NAI

A Brief History with Links

NAI’s partnership with the Dickens Project was launched three years ago after the unprecedented win of two students of the then nation-wide essay contest. The press and the mini-documentary of their unique study of nineteenth century novels highlighted NAI and Foshay and earned NAI students a tailor-made partnership with the Dickens Project through the NAI program.  The writing of these essays is only one part of the innovative multi-modal, interdisciplinary approach to the teaching of literature that NAI spearheads through collaboration with various partners in universities and the public humanities, as exemplified by the founding of the USC NAI Theater Workshop, where students deepen their academic study by producing full-scale performing arts adaptations  of canonical works of literature (now in its 6th year). Their most recent work, Twelfth Night, was featured at the USC press. These fruitful endeavors  are the context for this year’s campaign to  prepare NAI seniors to study George Eliot’s Middlemarch, the novel of study for the upcoming Dickens Universe. Their unit will form the crux of exciting new collaborations with university faculty and professional artists, with an eye towards a culminating production featuring live theatrical adaptations of the novel for the community. 

Now...Middlemarch 2017!

Our team is grateful for your interest in our work connecting the Dickens Universe and the first generation scholars in the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative program (NAI), and the wider implications of our partnership for diversity, inclusion and the future of the humanities as a whole.

In light of the this year’s book announcement , we are gearing up to take action for Middlemarch in 2017!  Please contact the USC NAI or the Dickens Project to get involved as we imagine and energize the ways this outreach can impact more of at the Dickens Universe and beyond.  

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