Editor’s Picks

Online Course Will Mark Frankenstein’s 200th Anniversary

By Cait Etherington
May 31, 2018

2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Myriad celebrations have been planned around the world to mark the observe the landmark date, including a new online course. Professors at two established online institutions, Athabasca University in Canada and SUNY Empire State College in the United States, are teaming up this fall to offer a course on zombie literature and Frankenstein. Its legacy will be a central part of the course. Notably, Athabasca University which has over 40,000 students, and Empire State College, which has over 18,000 students, both date back to the early 1970s and serve a mix of undergraduate and graduate students. Their co-taught Frankenstein course will target graduate students.

Frankenstein‘s History

The novel by Mary Shelley, the daughter of early feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft and novelist William Godwin, was written when Shelley was only nineteen years of age. It was first published anonymously with a preface by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley’s husband at the time. Despite Mary Shelley eventually claiming to be the novel’s rightful author, the authorship of the novel remains a point of contention for some critics do this day. What is not controversial is the book’s influence. From high school English courses to popular culture, the novel, about to enter its third century of circulation, continues to gain fans and raise a series of philosophical questions about what really does make one human.

This may explain why the novel continues to garner praise even two centuries later. In 2012, an article in Publishers Weekly declared Frankenstein the “greatest horror novel ever.” As the article’s co-authors Susan J. Wolfson and Ronald Levao sum up the novel’s influence as follows, “First issued in a mere 500 copies in 1818, it has never been out of print, and has gone on to inspire legions of writers, theatrical producers and film-makers, to rewrite the fable of man-creating Prometheus to reflect the excitements of scientific idealism and the anxieties about ambitious schemes run disastrously out of control. Frankenstein continues to generate cautionary tales, to haunt allegories of aliens and alienation, and to name any half-acknowledged human ‘other.'”

Films, Festivals, and Courses Planned for the Bicentenary

Rarely does the anniversary of a book’s publication garner much attention, but Frankenstein is an exception to the rule. There are movies, including Mary Shelley, a biopic starring Elle Fanning. There are festivals, which will include Frankenreads and an on-site festival at the Science Museum in London. Not surprisingly, many academic projects are also planned and anniversary editions, including this new annotated edition by MIT Press. And then there’s the online course.

This fall, Athabasca University’s MAIS program and Empire State College in New York will co-offer a seminar on zombie and vampire literature. The master’s level literary studies course will be team-taught by Dr. Mark A. McCutcheon from Athabasca and Dr. Dana Gliserman-Kopans from Empire State College. McCutcheon is the author of the Medium is the Monster: Canadian Adaptations of Frankenstein and the Discourse of Technology.

Among other topics, The Walking Undead: Zombies and Vampires in Transatlantic Cultural History, will explore the social and political conditions under which people become especially obsessed with vampires. As stated in a media release on the Athabasca University website, “This course takes an historical, transnational, and transcultural survey of vampire and zombie literature from Britain, the USA, and Canada: from the 18th-century Gothic foundations of this body of work; through Victorian and early modern horror classics; to contemporary fiction by Indigenous and diasporic writers. The Walking Undead focuses on literary texts but — given the rampant popularity today of zombie and vampire characters and stories — the course also allows students to pursue research on the hordes of audio-visual texts in these genres that are available via streaming media services like Netflix, Youtube, and elsewhere on the public Internet.” In addition, as part of the course, students will have an opportunity to attend in person or remotely participate in Athabasca University’s very own symposium, which will be part of the global Frankenreads event taking place on October 31st, 2018.