Dickens Universe 2022 to Feature 'David Copperfield' and 'Iola Leroy'

July 13, 2022

By Tara Thomas 


In 2019, after a thrilling conference featuring Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge, John Jordan hushed the audience to announce the books to be featured in next year’s conference: Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield and Frances E.W. Harper’s Iola Leroy! By the time our leadership team at Dickens Project HQ in Santa Cruz and the conference organizers—Brigitte Fielder, Ryan Fong, Tricia Lootens, and Jason Rudy—were well underway planning the conference, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, postponing the conference. In spite of the postponement, we found creative ways to continue engaging with Harper and Dickens, African-American and Victorianist studies, throughout the pandemic. Finally, we are just days away from the much-anticipated Dickens Universe featuring Dickens and Harper taking place between July 24th-July 30th.

The Virtual Dickens-Harper Universe

In lieu of an in-person 2020 Dickens Universe, we hosted “The Virtual Universe,” focusing on Black Victorian and African-American Studies. The conference brought together leading Victorianists and Americanists engaging in groundbreaking research on race in 19th-century literature. 

The conference took place at an exciting time for Victorian studies, providing a virtual space to continue conversations about the role of race in Victorian studies in the 21st century. Conference co-organizer Ryan Fong reflects:

We've been having a lot of conversations in Victorian studies about race over the last two years. What organizing this conference has taught me is how much we can learn from the decades of scholarship within nineteenth-century African American studies about how to approach those questions. There is a vibrant archive of Black authors and thinkers writing about race in the nineteenth century, of whom Harper is one important figure. By not engaging with them and with the recent scholarship about them, our understanding of the nineteenth-century world is always going to be incomplete and greatly diminished.

Just weeks before, Ronjaunee Chatterjee, Alicia Mireles Christoff, and Amy R. Wong published “Undisciplining Victorian Studies” in the LA Review of Books ahead of the spring Victorian Studies special issue of the same name. Soon after, Pearl Chaozon Bauer, Ryan Fong, Sophia Hsu, and Adrian S. Wisnicki launched “Undisciplining the Victorian Classroom,” a digital humanities project offering teaching resources including lesson plans, pre-recorded lectures, and syllabi to help teachers of nineteenth-century literature and culture teach Victorian studies from “a race-conscious lens.” 

The 2020 virtual Dickens Universe conference was organized by Fielder, Fong, Lootens, and Rudy and featured roundtable discussions including themselves as well as Jacqueline Barrios, Jennifer DeVere Brody, Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, Ronjaunee Chatterjee, Alicia Mireles Christoff, Sophia Hsu, Alisha Walters, Koritha Mitchell, Derrick Spires, Nazera Sadiq Wright, Daniel Hack, Meredith McGill, and Carla Peterson.

Dickens Universe 2022

This month, we are pleased to host the hybrid Dickens Universe featuring David Copperfield and Iola Leroy. Conference co-organizer Fong is looking forward to welcoming everyone to this long-awaited event: “After two postponements, I'm really excited to finally discuss these two novels together in-depth. We've been thinking about this conference since 2019, so there's been a lot of buildup and anticipation.” The conference will take place at UC Santa Cruz and remotely on Zoom between July 24th and July 30th and will open with a framing conversation featuring three of the co-organizers, Ryan Fong, Brigitte Fielder, and Tricia Lootens.

Co-organizer Brigitte Fielder (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Harper scholar and author of Race Relations: Genealogies of Interracial Kinship in Nineteenth-Century America (Duke University Press, 2020) joins long-time Dickens Universe scholars Fong, Lootens, and Rudy in organizing the Dickens-Harper conference. Fong says that he was “very grateful to have Brigitte Fielder’s guidance on the current state of nineteenth-century African American studies and Harper studies, specifically. She’s been instrumental in helping us build a program where we can engage these two novels in responsible and rigorous ways.” The conference includes talks and roundtable discussions focused on scholarship and pedagogy in Victorian and African American studies, including a talk by Fielder herself.

The Universe offers a robust program of lectures, roundtable, and seminar discussions in addition to Victorian teas, nightly film viewings, a Fundraising Auction, a grand party, and a Victorian ball. And, of course, plenty of opportunities for participants to talk with each other about it all!