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The Afterlives of Frankenstein: Extinction, Emergence, and the Haunted Screen

October 26, 2018 @ 10:00 am - 4:00 pm

Thompson Room, Barker Center, Harvard University

Frankenstein AfterlivesSponsors: Networked Events of the Romantic Bicentennials Initiative; the Keats-Shelley Association of America; the Mahindra Humanities Center, Harvard; Houghton Library, Harvard; the Provostial Fund for Arts and Humanities, Harvard; the Department of English, Harvard.

In memoriam: David Pendleton, Film Programmer, Harvard Film Archive

On the night of December 28th, 1814, the seventeen-year old Mary Shelley visited London’s “Theatre of Grand Philosophical Recreations.” The entertainment on offer was a strange medley of the modern and the atavistic. It combined scientific experiments involving electricity and gas with a phantasmagoria: a show that used optical illusions–projected images, smoke and mirrors –to make the demons and ghosts that a nineteenth-century audience might have wished to consign to an irrational, superstitious past appear magically before them once more.  On this night, often identified as an inspiration for the mad science of Shelley’s Frankenstein, the histories of literature, science, and cinema intersected. That convergence continues to shape contemporary culture two centuries later.

If the phantasmagoria, a pre-cinematic technology for the manufacture of moving pictures, influences Shelley’s book, the lines of influence also run in the reverse direction. Frankenstein has haunted the screen, as though modeling for movie-makers their own dream of an animating power that can bring dead matter to life. Since Thomas Edison’s movie studio produced a Frankenstein in 1910, at a moment when film technology was barely a decade old,  the novel has been adapted again and again. Commemorating the bicentennial of the novel’s publication, and held in conjunction with a film series running at the Harvard Film Archive from Oct. 22- Oct. 31, this day-long symposium investigates how and why Shelley’s monster has retained this grip on the cinematic imagination. The speakers and their audience will investigate together what the monster’s many afterlives can teach us about the power of the image, about technologies of artificial reproduction, and about cultures’ shifting understandings of the boundaries between life and death.

Our speakers come from the fields of history, film, literary studies, and media theory. In alphabetical order they are:

  • Homi Bhabha (Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English, Director of the Mahindra Humanities Center, Harvard)
  • James Chandler (Richard J. Franke Professor of English, University of Chicago)
  • Thomas Gunning (Edwin A. and Betty L. Bergen Distinguished Service Professor of Art History, Media and Cinema Studies, University of Chicago.)
  • Adam Hart (Visiting Assistant Professor of Film Studies, University of Pittsburgh)
  • Jill Lepore (David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History, Harvard)
  • Deidre Lynch (Ernest Bernbaum Professor of English Literature, Harvard)
  • Moira Weigel (Junior Fellow, Harvard Society of Fellows)


October 26, 2018
10:00 am - 4:00 pm


Thompson Room, Barker Center, Harvard University
12 Quincy St
Cambridge, 02138 United States