Monthly Archives: February 2016

Frankenstein: Monster of the Enlightenment

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley created two of the most enduring characters in literary history with her 1818 work Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus.  You’re probably familiar with modern depictions of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his monster,  whether through the classic Boris Karloff films, the cartoon incarnation from Hotel Transylvania, or Mel Brooks’ tap dancing duo in Young Frankenstein. What is it about the story of Victor Frankenstein and his grotesque creation that has stayed in the public consciousness for nearly two hundred years?


Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster in The Bride of Frankenstein, 1935 | Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons

We’ll dive more deeply into Dr. Frankenstein, his monster, and their continued grip on our collective psyche in this week’s cast. Before we do, though, we’d like to share some more background on the tale and its enduring legacy.

 One of the most prominent and popular interpretations of the book right after it was written held that the doctor and his monster represented humanity’s attempts to seize power from God. Victor Frankenstein is “playing God” when he creates life in his monster. He is soundly punished for this transgression, as the monster destroys his family and friends one by one. By the end of the work, Dr. Frankenstein is left devastated and alone.

Dr. Frankenstein’s punishment for dabbling in divine domains seemed a kind of warning to those living in the era of the Enlightenment: trespass into matters beyond the human realm, and face God’s wrath.


Franciso de Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son  | Public Domain/Wikimedia

The theme of divine retribution also echoes through the Romantic art of the period. One of our favorite professors at the University at Buffalo,  Dr. Don McGuire, often assigns Frankenstein as required reading to his students. He pairs it with a painting by Francisco Goya entitled Saturn Devouring His Son, as the two works have striking parallels. 

Drawn from Greek and Roman mythology, Goya’s painting depicts the Titan Saturn, or Cronus, eating his own children as they were born.  According to the myth, it had been foretold to Saturn that one of his children was destined to overthrow him in the future. Fearing this loss of status and power, the Titan his children as a threat. He therefore devours them, one by one.

Like Shelly’s Frankenstein, Goya’s painting acts as a warning to society that if one tries to overthrow the natural order of the world, there will be dire consequences.  It also raises questions on the extent to which that-which-has-been-created, whether monster or child, can pose an existential threat to its parents. The case of Saturn is a more obvious example, but Dr. Frankenstein can also been viewed as a direct threat to God’s presumed omnipotence in nineteenth-century Europe.  Seen in this light, the painting and the story are also cautionary tales about the lengths to which the parent will go to ensure that such a transgression does not happen again.


Frankenstein’s Monster says You Are Beautiful,” Marc Moss | Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND

Did this whet your appetite?  Good!  Then join Averill, Marissa and Sarah as they talk about Mary Shelley, her monstrous book, and what it has meant to readers across the centuries.


Show Notes & Further Reading

Bennett, Betty T., and Stuart Curran. Mary Shelley in Her Times. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

Crook, Nora. “Mary Shelley, Author of Frankenstein.” Blackwells Companion to the Gothic. New York: Wiley, 2001.

Flesher, Caroline McCracken. The Doctor Dissected: A Cultural Autopsy of the Burke & Hare Murders. Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 2011.

George Forster, Executed at Newgate, 18th of January, 1803, Newgate Calendar.

Hoeveler, Diane. “Frankenstein, Feminism, and Literary Theory.”

Laston, Jennifer. Did A Real-Life Alchemist Inspire Frankenstein. TIME.

Mary Shelley, Biography.

Moers, Ellen. Literary Women. Garden City: Doubleday, 1976.

Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. New York: Routledge, 1988. 

Rosner, Lisa. The Anatomy Murders: Being the True and Spectacular History of Edinburgh’s Notorious Burke and Hare and of the Man of Science who Abetted Them in the Commission of Their Most Heinous Crimes. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

Ruston, Sharon. “The Science of Life and Death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” 

Sappol, Michael. A Traffic in Dead Bodies: Anatomy and Embodied Social Identity in Ninteenth-Century America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Seimsen, Cynthia. “Wollenstonecraft, Mary.” Blackwell Companion to Sociology. New York: Wiley, 2007.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus

Feature Image: “Frankenstein At Work In His Laboratory,” from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Or The Modern Prometheus, 1922 Cornhill edition | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons 

Tainted Love: Love Canal and the Fight for Environmental Rights

Welcome to this year’s issue of Tainted Love, our annual installment of unusual love stories just in time for Valentine’s Day!


An abandoned house in Love Canal, circa 1978 | EPA / Wikimedia Commons

Today, we’re headed just up the road from Buffalo to Love Canal, New York, a small suburban development that made big headlines when toxic chemicals started to appear in residents’ yards.  After a damning health study was released in the summer of 1978, the residents there became arguably the most influential environmental advocates of the late twentieth century.  Join Katie and Tommy as they talk environmental justice from then until now with their guest, Dr. Richard S. Newman.  It’s a Valentine’s Day special, History Buffs style!



Protests by a Love Canal resident circa 1978 | EPA / Wikimedia Commons


As mentioned in the podcast, Dr. Newman will be giving a talk at the Buffalo History Museum on Wednesday, March 23 at 7:30 p.m.  His talk is entitled “Love Canal: A Toxic History,” and comes from his new book, Love Canal: A Toxic History from Colonial Times to the Present.  The book is published by Oxford University press and will be released in April 2016.



An abandoned street in Love Canal | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Show Notes and Further Reading

Edkardt C. Beck, “The Love Canal Tragedy,” EPA Journal 5.1, 1979, 17-20

Elizabeth Blum, Love Canal Revisited: Race, Class, and Gender in Environmental Activism, Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008

Nicol Bryan,  Love Canal: Pollution Crisis,  Milwaukee: The World Almanac Library, 2004

Craig E. Colton and Peter N. Skinner, The Road to Love Canal: Managing Industrial Waste before the EPA, Austin: The  University of Texas Press, 1996

Kate Davies, The Rise of the U.S. Environmental Health Movement, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2013

Nicholas Freudenerg, Not in Our Backyards! Community Action for Health and the Environment, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984

Lois Gibbs, Love Canal: The Story Continues…., Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers, 1998

Adeline Levine, Love Canal: The Issues and Controversies. Produced through the Educational Communications Center, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, 2013

Love Canal Emergency Declaration Area Remediation of EDA 2 and 3: Final Study Report,  New York State Department of Health and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany, May 1991

Ellen Griffith Spears, Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014


Feature image: Valentine’s Tree with Hearts | Johntex / Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.5,




McKinley, Roosevelt, and the Pan-American Exposition


The Pan-American Exposition, which opened in May 1901, was the pride of Buffalo. The city sparkled with new electric lights that boasted the power and potential of the electricity produced by nearby Niagara Falls. President William McKinley called it a symbol of the “progress of the human family of the Western Hemisphere.”  Little did President McKinley know this speech, full of hope for the future, would be his last. On September 6, 1901, Buffalo became known for something other than electricity or the glittering Pan American Exposition: it became the city where one president was assassinated, and another was inaugurated. Join Dan and Elizabeth as they discuss an anarchist, an assassination, and the unconventional inauguration of one of our nation’s most unconventional presidents.

As a little plug for our fair city – you should definitely stop in and see the incredible Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site. And while you’re in town, take some time to wander around Delaware Park, where you can check out the last few remnants of the Pan American Exposition (now the Albright Knox Art Gallery and the Buffalo History Museum).  


Logo of the 1901 Pan American Exposition | Raphael Beck / Public Domain

Show Notes and Further Reading

Fisher, Jack. Stolen Glory: The McKinley Assassination. La Jolla: Alamar Books, 2001.

Kachun, Mitch.”big Jim” Parker and the Assassination of William Mckinley: Patriotism, Nativism, Anarchism, and the Struggle for African American Citizenship.” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 9 (1), 93–116.

Miller, Scott. The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century. New York: Random House Publishing, 2013.

Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. New York: Random House, 2001.

Morris, Edmund. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1979.

The Last Speech of President William McKinley, September 5, 1901




The Ansley Wilcox Mansion, now the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site  | Courtesy of the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site Foundation, Buffalo, NY


Feature Image: The room where Theodore Roosevelt became president – the library in the Wilcox Mansion | Courtesy of the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site Foundation, Buffalo, NY