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Forum on the Curren(t)cy of Frankenstein

  • Washington University School of Medicine Clopton Auditorium St. Louis, MO 63110 USA (map)

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the defining creation myth and horror story of the modern era, was published in 1818. The Medical Humanities program and the Center for the History of Medicine will host a three-day Forum on The Curren(t)cy of Frankenstein, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the novel’s publication by contemplating its bearing today in the context of medical research, practice, and ethics.

The event will begin with performance from the celebrated adaptation of Frankenstein by playwright Nick Dear, directed by Bill Whitaker, Professor of the Practice in the Performing Arts Department. Whitaker has directed numerous plays at Washington University and regularly teaches at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London.

Following the performance are different scholarly lectures on each of the three days of the Forum.

On September 28, celebrated author Luke Dittrich will speak on “Shelley’s Frankenstein and Modern Medical Practice: A Family Story of Lobotomy,” based on his recent book Patient H. M.: A Story of Memory, Madness and Family Secrets. Winner of the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award and Los Angeles Times Book Prize Winner and named “One of the Best Books of the Year” by The Washington Post, New York Post, NPR, The Economist, Wired, and Kirkus Reviews, Dittrich tells a very personal history of the rise during the 1950s of the psychosurgical procedure known the lobotomy, which his grandfather performed on the young epileptic Henry Molaison and countless others.

On September 29, William Newman, Distinguished Professor and Ruth N. Halls Professor in History and Philosophy at Indiana University, will discuss “Frankenstein, the Homunculus, and the Long History of Artificial Life.” Professor Newman will demonstrate alchemical experiments of the early modern era, for which raising the dead was the supreme feat of alchemy. 

On September 30, Minsoo Kang, Professor of History at University of Missouri-St. Louis and author of the acclaimed book Sublime Dreams of Living Machines on the history of human automata, will give a joint lecture with Amy Pawl, Senior Lecturer of English at Washington University, and expert on the literary innovations and influence of Mary Shelley’s novel:
     “We Must Save Frankenstein's Monster” - Amy Pawl
     “We Must Kill Frankenstein” - Minsoo Kang

Each day will culminate with a panel discussion among noted medical practitioners, ethicists, and humanists on the questions Shelley’s novel raises for medical practice today. Panelists include Dr. Susan E. MacKinnon, Director, Center for Nerve Injury and Paralysis, Sydney M., Jr. and Robert H. Shoenberg Professor, and chief, Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery; Dr. Jeffrey Bishop, Director of the Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics at Saint Louis University; Rebecca Dresser, Washington University Professor of Law and expert on biomedical ethics; Dr. Emily Jungheim, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Washington University School of Medicine; Dr. Ira Kodner, Professor of Surgery and former Director of the Center for the Study of Ethics and Human Values;  Amy Cislo, Senior Lecturer in Women, Gender and Sexuality studies at Washington University and expert on Paracelsus and transgender studies, . 

Organizer: Rebecca Messbarger, Director of Medical Humanities, Associate Director of the Center for the History of Medicine

Cosponsors:
Center for the History of Medicine, Washington University Medical School
Program in Medical Humanities, Washington University

The Becker Library, Washington University Medical School
Center for the Humanities
Office of the Provost, Washington University
Office of Faculty Affairs, Washington University Medical School
Department of Developmental Biology, Washington University Medical School
Medical Staff Association of Barnes-Jewish Hospital