Dickens Project honored with the 2023 Award of Merit from the California Association of Teachers of English.

Susan Dillon (center), the president of the CATE Central Branch who nominated the Dickens Project for the award of merit, and two students she mentored. Photo by Doriana Hammond

The Dickens Project is world-famous for putting on its annual and much-loved Dickens Universe, an event that combines aspects of a scholarly conference, a book festival, and a joyous “summer camp,” as noted in a story in The New Yorker

But the Dickens Project also has a long history of outreach programs designed to promote the study and teaching of 19th-century literature in secondary schools as well as at the university level.

Now the visionaries behind the Dickens Project are being honored for their outreach to high school students and teachers with the 2023 Award of Merit from the California Association of Teachers of English (CATE), which is presented each year to an individual or organization that has made outstanding contributions toward the improvement of teaching English Language Arts.

The award was presented on March 3 at the CATE annual convention, where the Dickens Project was commended for helping high school teachers bring 19th-century literature into their classrooms and for its new Dickens Day of Writing program, which offers classroom curriculum and a day-long writing retreat for high school students, using 19th-century literature as a lens for seeing the contemporary world in new ways.

“We hear often from high school teachers that as much as they wish they could teach Dickens novels, there just isn’t space in their curriculum for even the shorter works,” said Renée Fox, Assistant Professor of Literature at UC Santa Cruz and co-director of The Dickens Project. “The Day of Writing offers teachers a way to bring Dickens into their classrooms in an introductory and low stakes way by providing them with a brief, choose-your-own-adventure curriculum focused on a short Dickens essay.”

“The 2023 CATE Award not only recognizes the success of the Dickens Project in bringing a younger audience into the world of Dickens,” John Jordan, Professor of Literature at UCSC and Dickens Project co-director, said. “The award also points to ways in which that audience has enriched the work of the Project itself.”

“From its beginnings back in 1981, the Dickens Project saw high school teachers as important allies in our mission of bringing a greater appreciation of Dickens and other 19th-century writers to members of the general public, especially to younger readers,” Jordan said. 

“To this end, The Dickens Project regularly organized workshops for teachers during our annual summer conference, the Dickens Universe, and developed resource handbooks and other curricular materials for use in the schools,”  Jordan said. 

With the help of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Dickens Project has held summer seminars and institutes in Santa Cruz for K–12 teachers, focusing on novels such as Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, and has used film adaptations to introduce Dickens novels to students.

The Dickens Project also partners with the University of Southern California’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative, a program in South Los Angeles that engages with the work of Jacqueline Barrios, now a professor at the University of Arizona. 

With the support of the Dickens Project, Barrios spent several years teaching long Dickens novels in her senior English classes and producing creative, public-facing projects that brought these novels into conversation with the lives of her students and their wider community.