‘Frankenstein’ featured in fall Assembly Series lineup

The Assembly Series, Washington University in St. Louis’ signature lecture series, will open its fall program Sept. 7 with an event that kick-starts a universitywide yearlong initiative to inhabit the rich and complex world of the 200-year-old story of “Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus.”

Called the Frankenstein Bicentennial, a multitude of events, lectures, performances and conferences are being developed and will be held on both the Danforth and the Medical campuses beginning this fall and continuing through the 2018 spring and fall terms (Visit the Frankenstein Bicentennial website for program listings and musings on Frankenstein themes.)

The collective conversation begins with playwright Nick Dear, who faithfully adapted Shelley’s novel for the National Theatre of Great Britain.

Also on tap for the fall Assembly Series are lectures on climate change, post-traumatic stress disorder, free speech on college campuses and the East St. Louis riots of 1917, among other subjects. More panels, as well as pairings of university faculty and alumni with invited speakers, are being offered this semester, lending a diversity of voices to topics.

All Assembly Series programs are free and open to the public. Due to the east end transformation project, drivers without parking permits are advised to check the university’s Parking & Transportation Services website for visitor parking information.

The fall semester program schedule follows:

5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7, Graham Chapel

Nick Dear: “Which One Is the Monster?”

Nick Dear photo

So you think you know the “Frankenstein” story?

If you haven’t read Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, think again. And if you wish to experience this treasure trove of evocative ideas, now would be a good time, as Washington University’s Class of 2021 embarks on a journey to delve into the rich and complex dystopian tapestry this teenager wrote so eloquently about, and in doing so, contemplate how some of the questions she raised 200 years ago still haunt us today.

Shelley’s “Frankenstein” was chosen as this year’s Common Reading Program selection, an initiative founded in 2003 to provide a common intellectual experience for incoming students to engage in thoughtful inquiry and dialogue with a diverse group of students and faculty across disciplines.

British dramatist Dear, who faithfully recreated Shelley’s story for the widely acclaimed 2011 National Theatre of Great Britain performance of “Frankenstein,” will be joined by two faculty members from Arts & Sciences: Rebecca Messbarger, professor of Italian and director of the medical humanities minor; and Henry I. Schvey, professor of drama and of comparative literature, to explore key concepts and provide context for Shelley’s story.

Thanks in large part to the Western film industry, many of us grew up with a plethora of Frankenstein-themed movies, ranging from the classic horror films of the 1930s starring Boris Karloff as the iconic monster, to Mel Brooks’ comic turn “Young Frankenstein,” to the campy cult musical “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

Generally speaking, the novel has been adapted more faithfully for the stage. Dear’s adaptation stayed close to the original story, and he went a step further, giving the “creature” equal billing. During its stage run, the principal actors, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, took turns playing Dr. Victor Frankenstein and the creature.

“We took a new approach,” Dear explained in a video on the National Theatre website, “which is tell the story, at least initially, from the creature’s point of view…from the perspective of the experiment rather than the experimenter. We try to show what it feels like to be that experiment.

“I knew I wanted to do Mary Shelley’s book justice,” Dear continued. “My hope is that if Mary Shelley popped into row G in the stalls, she’d recognize what she wrote.”

Unlike many of her contemporaries, Shelley placed her story in the coming century, foreshadowing many of the moral dilemmas that the machine age, the humanist/secular revolution, and major scientific discoveries brought with them.

Read more about Dear and his accomplishments.

Visit here for more information on the Common Reading Program and related reading links.

4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, Graham Chapel

Jason Green

Fernando Cutz, Morgan DeBaun, ShaAvhrée Buckman Garner and Jason Green: “Measuring the Impact and Influence of Ervin Scholars”

In 1987, Washington University welcomed its inaugural class of 11 John B. Ervin Scholars. Thirty years on, more than 600 Ervin Scholars have graduated, and many of them will converge on campus to attend the 30th anniversary conference.

For the Assembly Series program celebrating the success of the Ervin Scholars Program, four of its alumni will gather for a panel discussion, sharing how their college experiences helped shape who they became and the careers they chose. They are:

  • Cutz (AB ’10), director for South America at the White House National Security Council;
  • DeBaun (AB ’12), founder of Blavity, a virtual gathering place for black millennials;
  • Garner (AB ’92, MD ’99, PhD ’99), director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research’s Office of Translational Sciences in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; and
  • Green (AB ’03), the moderator, who left President Barack Obama’s legal team to co-found SkillSmart, a software company that matches employers with individuals who have specific skill sets.

6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 18, Hillman Hall, Clark-Fox Forum

Ira Flatow, Bronwen Konecky and Gavin Schmidt: panel discussion on climate change

A conversation on climate change begins with a panel of climatologists discussing how the study of past and present climate conditions can aid in development of strategies to protect Earth.

The following week brings a lecture on the geopolitical realities of climate change. This mini-series is made possible by a long-standing endowed lecture fund for programs on science. Recently revitalized, the former Arthur Holly Compton and William Ferguson lectures are now being presented as the “Science Matters” lecture series. Watch for future such events.

Participants are:

Flatow: The popular host of the “Science Friday” public radio show will serve as moderator. With a career spanning four decades, Flatow has demonstrated a remarkable deftness for translating scientific concepts and processes in an engaging and accessible way.

Konecky: As a paleoclimatologist at the University of Colorado, Konecky studies the long shadow of climate change, noting historic changes in tropical climate and ecosystems, from the geologic past to the 21st century.

Schmidt: As a climate scientist, Schmidt studies past and present climate drivers to develop viable scenarios of a future Earth. He is an adjunct faculty member at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, Hillman Hall, Clark-Fox Forum

Christian Parenti: “The Climate Crisis, Political Pessimism and Realistic Solutions”

The second entry on climate change features Parenti, who focuses on the geopolitical fallout from ignoring the signs and consequences of the climate crisis. In addition to teaching sociology in the Global Liberal Studies Program at New York University, Parenti is a veteran journalist, contributor to The Nation, and author of four books, including “Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence.”

5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3, Anheuser-Busch Hall, Room 310

PTSD expert david morris

David J. Morris: “PTSD in Military and Civilian Life”

In Morris’ influential book, “The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” the former infantry officer-turned-journalist embedded with U.S. military forces during the Iraq war recounts his struggle for survival in an attempt to understand and recover from the debilitating mental injury known as PTSD.

Joining Morris for a panel discussion will be Tonya Edmond, associate professor at the Brown School and an expert on sexual trauma therapies; and James Petersen, an alum, Iraq war veteran and clinical social worker with the VA St. Louis Health Care System.

In addition, Morris will give two presentations Oct. 4 on the Medical Campus. Visit the Bernard Becker Medical Library site for more information on those events.

5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 11, Anheuser-Busch Hall, Room 310

David French: “War of Words: Free Speech versus Tyranny on Campus”

The National Review contributor and constitutional expert is alarmed by what he sees as the growing intolerance of diverse viewpoints on college campuses. He views this as not only a threat to democracy and the First Amendment but also harmful to the students themselves.

3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, Hillman Hall, Clark-Fox Forum

Sara Ahmed: “The Institutional as Usual: Diversity, Utility and the University”

Ahmed, a feminist writer and scholar, will deliver this year’s James E. McLeod Memorial Lecture on Higher Education.

Ahmed’s research interests lay at the intersection of feminist, queer and race studies, exploring how bodies and worlds take shape, and how power is secured and challenged in daily life as well as in institutional cultures. For this presentation, Ahmed will demonstrate how and why diversity is “in use” as a word and as a concept to help understand how universities are shaped by patterns of use that often go unnoticed.

4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25, location to be announced

Jack Kloppenburg: “First the Seed, Still the Seed: Breeding and Property Rights from Mass Selection to CRISPR”

The title of sociologist Kloppenburg’s talk refers to his seminal publication, “First the Seed: The Political Economy of Plant Biotechnology, 1492-2000.”

Thanks to a stint with the Peace Corps in Botswana, Kloppenburg developed empathy with farmers’ plight early in life. This led to his lifelong study of plant breeding and seed production, as well as to a strong commitment to promoting just and sustainable food systems. Today, he continues studying the social impacts of biotechnology and is active in movements such as the Open Source Seed Initiative.

4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 30, Anheuser-Busch Hall, Room 310

Norman Ornstein

Norman Ornstein: “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate and the Not-Yet Deported”

Ornstein is an American Enterprise Institute scholar and veteran observer of the American political system. In his last two books, co-authored with Thomas Mann, Ornstein takes us on a historical journey, identifying the factors that led to the creation of a political environment ripe for a Donald Trump presidency.

In September, Ornstein and Mann’s next entry, “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate and the Not-Yet-Deported” will be published, taking up where the last book left off.

5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, Umrath Hall Lounge

Crystal Feimster: “The 1917 East St. Louis Race Riot”

Feimster, a historian, will deliver the annual Holocaust Memorial Lecture.

When the university established this lecture in 1989, its goal was to commemorate not only the Holocaust but also to address its broader implications for other instances of systematic persecution, mass murder and genocide. Feimster, an associate professor at Yale University who specializes in the study of racial and sexual violence in America, will address one of the most gruesome and shameful episodes in American history: the 1917 East St. Louis, Ill., race riot.

5:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 13, Anheuser-Busch Hall, Room 310

Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat: “Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz”

Survivors Club book cover
The cover of “Survivors Club”

He was the little blond-haired boy in the iconic picture of children being liberated from the Auschwitz concentration camp. He was one of the lucky ones who made it out alive. But it wasn’t until decades later that Bornstein discovered how incredibly lucky he had been.

In his memoir, “Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz,” co-authored with his daughter, Washington University alumna and MSNBC producer Debbie Bornstein Holinstat, the retired Johnson & Johnson executive shares his thrilling story with the world.

Bornstein’s presentation concludes the fall Assembly Series programs. The spring schedule will be announced in late January.

Visit the Assembly Series website or the Assembly Series Facebook page for detailed information on current programs and speakers, to subscribe to receive announcements, photographs, videos and other general information about the series.

You also can comment on and join in the discussion of the programs on Twitter at #assemblyseries.

Comments and respectful dialogue are encouraged, but content will be moderated. Please, no personal attacks, obscenity or profanity, selling of commercial products, or endorsements of political candidates or positions. We reserve the right to remove any inappropriate comments. We also cannot address individual medical concerns or provide medical advice in this forum.