Two hundred years after the tale of Frankenstein first transfixed readers, Professor Emeritus of Media and Society Les Friedman is bringing his research on Mary Shelley’s iconic monster to an international audience.
Friedman, whose book Monstrous Progeny: A History of Frankenstein Narrative has garnered both media and academic interest, is co-chairing the upcoming conference Frankenstein and Popular Culture at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Friedman will also serve as the keynote speaker of the 2018 International Health Humanities Consortium conference “Frankenstein@200” held at Stanford University.
“Frankenstein is incredibly relevant and has never been out of print in its 200 years,” Friedman says. “What Mary Shelley is really talking about touches on the idea of technology controlling us rather than our ability to control technology. Frankenstein raises a series of significant questions appropriate to today and applicable to topics ranging from big data and cloning to bioethics and artificial intelligence.”
Friedman is co-chairing the Frankenstein and Popular Culture conference with Susan Lederer, professor and chair of the Department of Medical History and Bioethics at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. The conference will take place Oct. 27-29. “Frankenstein@200” will take place April 19-22, 2018, and will broadly explore Frankenstein at the nexus of medicine.
On Wednesday, Oct. 25, Friedman will also serve as a guest lecturer in the Classics Department for a “creature feature” talk hosted by Associate Professor and Chair of Classics James Capreedy.
Coinciding with the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein first published in 1818, the University of Florida has developed a course on monsters around Friedman’s book, Monstrous Progeny, as well as a matching exhibition. Friedman will also deliver a talk on the subject at Emory University in April 2018.
In Monstrous Progeny, Friedman and his co-author – Allison Kavey, associate professor of early modern history and chair of the History Department at CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the CUNY Graduate Center – trace the origins and antecedents of the Frankenstein story, discuss the novel itself, and progress through its many media adaptations and cultural extensions to explore the narrative’s enduring appeal across genres and eras.
The New Statesman reviewed the book in September, calling it an “exhaustive discussion of the Frankenstein narrative” that wonders how far to “allow science to interfere in nature” and “shows how porous are the boundaries between comedy and fear.”
In addition, Parade Magazine recommended Monstrous Progeny, writing that “behind [Frankenstein’s] familiar, frightening visage are some deep, dark roots. Lester D. Friedman and Allison B. Kavey’s fascinating Monstrous Progeny (Rutgers University Press) digs deep to uncover the many offshoots of the Frankenstein family tree … has now branched through all of pop culture.”
In 2016, Friedman was invited to become one of 25 visiting international scholars at the “Frankenstein’s Shadow Symposium” in Geneva, Switzerland. There, in nearly the precise place where Shelley initially conceived the idea for Frankenstein, the symposium commemorated the origin of the novel and assessed its influence in different times and cultures, particularly its resonance in debates about public policy governing biotechnology and medicine.
Friedman joined the HWS faculty in 2005, having previously taught at Syracuse University, Upstate Medical Center and Northwestern University. He earned both his Ph.D. and master’s degree from Syracuse University and his bachelor’s degree from Alfred University. He is the editor of “Fires Were Started,” American Cinema of the 1970s, and “Cultural Sutures: Medicine and Media” and the author of Citizen Spielberg, and the forthcoming Tough Ain’t Enough: The Films of Clint Eastwood.