Santa Cruz, California: The Dickens Project at UC Santa Cruz has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities the four-week NEH seminar entitled “Why Literature Matters: Voices, Alone and Together” will take place from June 24th to July 20th.

Focusing the first three weeks on a variety of nineteenth-century British and American texts and introducing diverse approaches to reading literature, school teachers will spend the final week attending The Dickens Project’s annual conference, Dickens Universe, where school teachers will attend numerous lectures and workshops.

Janice Carlisle, Professor of English at Yale University will direct the seminar, with the Dickens Project Director and Co-Founder, John Jordan, Emeritus Professor at UC Santa Cruz as project director, and sixteen school teachers from throughout the country as NEH Summer Scholars. Professor Carlisle has designed and led numerous seminars for school teachers through the Yale New Haven Teachers Institute and the Yale National Initiative. Professor Jordan has directed eleven previous NEH Summer Seminars for School Teachers and has taught at UC Santa Cruz for many years.

“Why Literature Matters” is the twelfth NEH Summer Seminar for School Teachers directed by The Dickens Project, and coinciding with the annual Dickens Universe conference. Carlisle explained how “the Dickens Universe is a celebration of the ongoing value of reading as a way of creating a sense of community, and that is, I think, one of the primary ways in which literature can matter is a world that seems increasingly divisive.” This week-long conference, dedicated to a novel by Charles Dickens, allows faculty, graduate, undergraduate, community college, and high school students, as well as Road Scholars and community members, to attend workshops, lectures, and discussion groups. “I predict that the NEH Summer Scholars will find particularly engaging and exciting the opportunity to see how much a work of literature can mean to a large group of different kinds of people,” said Carlisle.

The NEH Summer Seminar will read prose fiction (Edgar Allan Poe and Charlotte Brontë), non-fiction autobiographical prose (John Stuart Mill and Frederick Douglass), and poetry (Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson) and Little Dorrit, the novel by Charles Dickens that is the subject of the 2018 Dickens Universe. Carlisle noted “both nineteenth-century writers and twenty-first-century commentators on the value of reading literature share one important characteristic: they are both self-conscious about living in a time of radical transitions and anxious about challenges of responding to such rapidly changing circumstances.” Attending to these conversations allows the NEH summer seminar to be in conversation with the NEH initiative called “The Common Ground: The Humanities in the Public Square,” which asks scholars to “contribute to the building of new forms of community and understanding.”

The Dickens Project is a Multi-campus Research Unit of the University of California founded in 1981 at UC Santa Cruz and consists of faculty and graduate students from American and international universities. The Dickens Project creates collaborative research opportunities in the field of Victorian studies through various conferences, publications, and institutes. In addition to many NEH summer seminars for teachers, The Dickens Project also partners with the USC-Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) to help students from Title 1 schools in South Central Los Angeles prepare for college, and offers an annual Community College scholarship for students of Victorian literature.

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