With a special focus on the work of Charles Dickens, the “Great Adaptations” seminar is a four-week exploration of the pedagogical potential of literary and cinematic adaptations to promote critical thinking and students’ active engagement with literary texts. Designed for middle and high school teachers, the seminar explores not only how and why canonical fiction is adapted, imitated, and revised, but also how those adaptations, imitations, and revisions exist in conversation with their source texts. Taking the position that adaptations illuminate their originary texts by calling attention to a text’s defining features and/or its interpretive meaning, the seminar will consider how teachers can use adaptations in the classroom, either as tools for critical investigation or as a means of student expression and assessment.
The seminar will critically explore two of the most frequently adapted and taught of Dickens’s novels: A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations. These two texts are ideal sites for investigation: the first is a tale of haunted visitation and revision, while the second is a story of self-making and remaking. They are, in other words, narratives about confronting multiple versions of a life. This thematic interest in revision within the texts reinforces the seminar’s interest in revision of texts. Informed by current and emerging trends in adaptation studies, the “Great Adaptations” seminar offers teachers opportunities to explore a wide array of literary re-articulations, from textually “faithful” films to radical narrative realignments. But the pedagogical possibilities are not limited to these two novels, or indeed to Dickens, or even to the Victorian novel, as the adaptive approach we will explore lends itself to application across the full range of literary texts, genres, and periods.
We are quite fortunate that another NEH Summer Seminar (for College and University Teachers) will be running alongside ours at UC Santa Cruz. That seminar, "Performing Dickens," will be led by Professor Sharon Weltman of Louisiana State University. Professor Weltman's seminar will focus on adaptations of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. Though the two seminars will meet separately and follow their own schedules and reading lists, participants will have opportunities for collaboration with members of both seminars.