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Thursday, June 8 • 3:30pm - 5:00pm
Big Books Field Studio: Design Methods and the Canon

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How might we critically remake a 19th century text written by a canonical British author by reading it in today’s place and time? What might the pages of David Copperfield have to say about shaping the city—whether by foregrounding indigenous knowledge, revisualizing its infrastructure anew, or tending to the feelings of righteous rebellion among one another? And crucially, how might educators craft new forms of socially-engaged pedagogy by adapting studio approaches to emplace text in the city? This proposed panel convenes the director and collaborators of “Big Books Field Studio” from the University of Arizona to share their answers to these questions.

Supported by an Fearless Inquiries Initiative “Opening the Canon” award from the College of Humanities, Assistant Professor Dr. Jacqueline Barrios conceived and directed the Public & Applied Humanities project “Big Book Field Studio” in the Fall of 2022. Collaborating students, artists, and scholars produced works that responded to a common design brief re-imagining Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (1850) within the landscapes and urban contexts of Tucson, AZ. These works formed the basis of The Book of the City: Exhibiting a Southwestern Urban Humanities, a public exhibition held October 25, 2022 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson as a part of the Tucson Humanities Festival.

Scholarly Context
Cued by the novel’s central concern with experiences of displacement, the studio weaves literary studies with design research, making visible moments of spatio-temporal collapse between the world of the novel and the borderlands city in which this community of readers resides. The studio participants work to resituate the novel as its 21st century “emplaced readers,” reconsidering in their own specific time and place how Dickens navigated his readers through experiences of social and emotional expulsion in his era. LitLabs forwards ways to play with canonicity and shows how site, the arts, and public-engagement intervene and translate textual objects and their status as symbols of rarefied literacy into as-yet unimagined forms of literary urban belongings.

These are spatial experiences of embodied understanding, historical interconnectedness, and speculative power about the city, that are produced and activated by the literary imagination. At once an emergent archive of cultural material and a repertoire for cultivating political consciousness, literary urban belongings result from transforming reading into a process for feeling and expressing a collective power to represent and transform our relations to the city itself.

Over the course of three months, students, artists, and early-career faculty collaborated to develop with the “fused practices” of the urban humanities (Cuff et al., MIT Press,2020). Building upon the publicly-engaged work of Dr. Barrios’ LitLabs in South Los Angeles K-12 school (Barrios, University of Iowa Press, forthcoming), the transposition of curriculum creates new intertextual and interspatial stories, of reading, audience building, and literary urban belonging.

Development & Organization
In the panel, participants will briefly present their projects through images and excerpts of video, describe the textual anchors for their work, share the creative processes behind them, and the conceptual engagements advanced through their fields. These include:
  • reading by moonlight to reveal the shadow of indigenous epistemologies and decolonize a white text (Kiana Anderson, PhD Student in English)
  • recontextualizing sites and situations of disciplining in a participatory project to cast off individual burdens of shame and humiliation onto thrift store figurines through queer theory and activism (Dr. Harris Kornstein, Assistant Professor in Public & Applied Humanities),
  • a visualizing the entanglements of exploited and low wage labor to reimagine bus shelters and infrastructure for spatial justice (Kenny Wong, Lecturer in Sustainable Built Environments and Urban Planning).
At roundtable’s end, participants and audience alike will discuss a shared set of questions and provocations:
  • How do these projects illuminate new relationships and critically remake the “canon” (or “big books”) of your field and beyond?
  • What are the publics of so called “big books,” and what could be the urgency or motivation behind the task of producing them?
  • How can a literary imagination produce new ways to study space?
  • How might fused methodologies, growing from the studio and collaboratively reaching across disciplines, impact practice, pedagogy and research in your field?

The panel will speak to a wide audience: from advanced undergraduate and graduate students, to faculty and instructors, to community-based practitioners and creative collaborators. The “Big Books Field Studio” framework and its individual projects provide a successful example of place-based, interdisciplinary collaboration across expertise and positions. Brought together by the literary imagination and driven by critical making, the studio emplaces the work of the classroom to “coauthor the city” by experiencing it through the eyes of community storytellers, treasured places, and the studio collaborative. It layers the reflective development of new curriculum, critically reimagining the instruction of canonical works,and the education of an increasingly diverse population of readers, with the advancement of each participants’ own areas of research.


Harris Kornstein

University of Arizona, United States of America

Jacqueline Barrios

Assistant Professor, University of Arizona
avatar for Kenny Wong

Kenny Wong

Lecturer, University of Arizona

Kiana Lynn Macayan Anderson

University of Arizona, United States of America

Thursday June 8, 2023 3:30pm - 5:00pm EDT
Room E