DorritLab is a year-long study of Charles Dickens’s novel Little Dorrit, by seniors of the University of Southern California’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) program in their AP English classroom. The Lab is directed by Jacqueline Jean Barrios, public school teacher, director and graduate student researcher in 19th century literature and urbanism at UCLA. In partnership with the Dickens Project and guest experts from the fields of literary study, urban research, visual design and the performing arts, DorritLab hosts intensives, classroom swaps, field trips, visiting guest lectures and workshops throughout the year, creating a unique interdisciplinary, urban-based learning experience based on the novel. The Lab culminates with a Festival and Production, where students present their learning in a series of projects and an evening theatrical adaptation where they bring the literary work to life for their community.

As part of the collaboration with the Dickens Project, NAI’s seniors will be invited to pen essays for a competition to attend the annual Dickens Universe conference. Essay winners will earn an all-expense paid week to the Dickens Universe for a communal immersion and investigation into Dickens’s novel.

The Dickens Universe is a residential conference at UC Santa Cruz where the winning seniors have the opportunity to join scholars, university faculty, and the general public in one of the largest, and oldest, humanities-focused consortia in the world. Dickens Universe scholarships, along with a grant which provides each student their own personal copy of the novel, are products of the NAI-Dickens Project collaboration. This ongoing partnership energizes the teaching of literature to students of our communities, and addresses the wider implications of such work for equity, access and the future of the humanities in public life.