English majors Evan Dekens and Sarah Sturm presented research papers at the Frankenstein Bicentennial Undergraduate Conference hosted by the University of South Dakota earlier this month. The conference featured research presentations by undergraduates from around the country and was part of the Keats-Shelley Association’s Frankenreads—an international celebration of Mary Shelley’s most famous novel. Their participation in the conference was supported in part by funds from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Dekens’ paper, “Aesthetic Transgressions in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” analyzed the way that societal “othering” of individuals as depicted in the novel has evolved and changed in light of shifting cultural and social landscapes. He focused particularly on the way that images (in films and satires, for example) are used to diminish the linguistic and intellectual value of subjugated groups or individuals. Sturm’s paper, “Shelley’s Feminine Nexus in Frankenstein,” argued that Shelley feminizes the biologically male creature in order to create a gothic dramatization of her own tragedies. She showed how by surrounding the creature with feminine symbolism while manifesting feminine archetypes within him, Shelley creates a creature that personifies her torment in an androgynous frame.
Dekens and Sturm wrote their essays for Professor Patricia Matthew’s ENGL110 class. Students in the course spent the entire semester focused on Frankenstein and its reception from its publication in 1818 to today, reading traditional critical and theoretical interpretations, listening to short reflections on the novel by faculty across the arts and sciences, and reading modern essays that interpret the novel in light of questions about race and revolution. For their final projects, students experimented with the best way to present their work. Some wrote traditional research papers, others compiled videos with accompanying essays, and several students shared oral presentations.
ENGL110 Introduction to Literature: The Analytic Essay is one of the English Department’s new courses, and Professor Matthew wanted to experiment with course content (focusing on a single, major text and figure for a whole semester) and learn how students want to write today, often outside of the traditional college essay structure. Although Dekens and Sturm opted to write more traditional research papers, both of their essays approached the novel with an eye towards how it resonates in current cultural debates.