Winter Graduate Conference

April 20, 2023

By Spencer Gregory Armada, PhD Candidate 

     Defying the highly unusual presence of snow in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and its effort to block the main path into town, numerous scholars from across the country made their way to UCSC this February for the Dickens Universe Graduate Conference. Held annually and hosted every other year by UCSC, this conference serves as an important, and unique, complement to each summer’s Dickens Universe. 

     A few months after departing Santa Cruz in late June, graduate students are encouraged to produce a paper—either reflecting their current work or an early draft of a project they want to begin— and are paired with a Dickens Project faculty member from across the country. Faculty members work closely with their mentee over the intervening months, passing drafts back and forth until February, when everyone meets again to present their work. Historically, the winter conference has been one key site for the reproduction of the field of Victorian studies, linking scholars across generations; there are few other opportunities in the field for faculty, early career researchers & postdocs, and graduate students to congregate not only for robust, generous, and generative discussion of ongoing research and reflections on the state of the discipline, but also to spend time together as colleagues and friends, living, dining, and working together for a weekend.

     Hoping to double down on what is best about the Winter conference, Professor Renee Fox, the Dickens Project co-director, and I decided to experiment with a slightly altered conference format: instead of the usual panel-and-audience model, in which 3-4 panelists read their papers to a silent audience followed by 30 minutes of Q&A, we opted to hold several intensive workshops in which smaller groups (four faculty and six students) spent two hours together having detailed conversations of each individual project and the common ground established between the papers.

    The success of this choice cannot be overstated. By attending to papers considering a wide range of topics, including the influence of Charles Burney’s eighteenth-century musicology on experiments in novelistic representation, the enduring presence of the theater in Dickens, and the pressing ethical questions attending the endless contemporary appetite for Victorian adaptations, we were able to think not only collaboratively, but collectively, about 19th-century studies and, crucially, how to best focus our work now in response to the demands of the 21st century. I’d like to give special thanks to Professors Renee Fox, Jason Rudy, Rae Greiner, and Sam Tett for their in-person guidance of this year’s grads, to all participating Dickens Project faculty mentors for generously volunteering their time and expertise, and of course to all those supporting the Dickens Project and its important work.