The most haunting sections of David Copperfield are its first-person accounts of the orphaned protagonist’s wanderings, his loitering in the great London metropolis, his toil and hunger in quay-side factories, his desperate flight one day to his aunt in Dover. The novel’s powerful depiction of an eighty-mile journey for survival and a better life is the literary provocation of this project: how might we enact a spatio-temporal collapse between the world of the novel and the world of readers who occupy a border city?

In the novel, the representation of displacement opens readers’ imaginations to their sense of place; it is through an outsider’s consciousness, emblematized by a vagrant boy, that Dickens connects the reader to the cruelty and indifference, longing and humanity, within experiences of social, economic and emotional expulsions. How might we explore this anew in Tucson’s urban space, activating both literature and the site of encounter with new central protagonists, and new canonical creators? How might we in fact, playfully challenge canonicity itself, to intervene and translate the literal heft of a long-form textual object, and its status as a symbol of rarefied literacy, into as-yet unimagined forms of urban literary belongings?

To that end, scholars, designers and artists are invited to take part in a pilot studio set in Tucson to explore, and begin to answer, some of these questions. This collaborative and interdisciplinary field studio, a site-specific arts and design workshop, will culminate with an exhibition and catalog of prototype projects, in the form of short films, live performances, maps and architectural drawings, and ‘zines or other micro-press publications (among others), that address the lines of inquiry set out in this brief. In the course of the project, collaborators will conceive, propose, research and produce this prototype, using the literature to prompt meditation and engagement with Tucson’s urbanscapes, The products of this studio form a key resource for a new undergraduate 15-week GE course, of the same name, conceived as the pedagogical outcome of the studio, where UArizona students might forge their unique author-ity as readers with the power to make such books matter in our time.

As interpretations and speculations about urban space and history–projects should engage in methods drawing from, or adding to, the Urban Humanities, an emerging field for producing spatial transdisciplinarity in research and interventions by deploying experimental methods for fieldwork, urban study and design (spatial ethnography, thick-mapping, filmic-sensing, sound-scavenging, to name a few). Thus the studio is open to procedures woven in from collaborators’ own disciplines as well as the creative arts, performance, maker spaces and the publicly-engaged humanities, newly contextualized through an orientation towards studying (and intervening in) urban space. Guided by their textual anchor, projects might identify the historic Tucson railroad depot, downtown streetscapes of “urban renewal,” or the indigenous memory preserve of Tumamoc Hill to re-situate the text. Aggregated, these projects “write” a new spatial biography of Tucson into being, bringing to consciousness a diverse variety of otherwise submerged, displaced, or erased narratives of the city.

Book of the City & the Big Book Field Studio

Big Book Field Studio project to come out of the inaugural initiative — Fearless Inquiries project — a new flagship funding program of UArizona’s College of Humanities. More specifically, Big Books Field Studio is one of two recipients of the new Dorrance Dean’s Award for Opening the Canon. A spotlight written up by the College about the project can be found here.

The centerpiece of the studio is a pilot Fall immersion urban humanities studio where invited collaborators (scholar, artists, students) conceived, proposed, researched and produced works that respond to a common design brief re-imagining Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield within the landscapes and urban contexts of Tucson. Collaborators partnered with the PI and an exhibition designer to research, plan and fabricate works the culminating exhibition on October 2022. A larger network of artists, scholars, curators, arts institutional directors were assembled to serve as interlocutors and a jury for the project.

The project’s scope is the formation of a GE course modeled after LitLabs, the site-specific urban humanities studio and public engagement projects (production, exhibition, festival)inspired by the object of the long-form 19c novel in South LA. This studio is a unique opportunity to test LitLabs’ research and production methodologies in a new Borderlands site of Tucson and Southern Arizona.