February 6, 2002

Class of 2006 is Assigned Frankenstein

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This summer, Cornell’s class of 2006 will dive into the morbid, gothic world of 19th Century monsters and mad scientists.

This world is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the book recently selected as required reading for the incoming freshmen class.

“We wanted a book that raised important questions and appealed to students and faculty from the entire range of academic disciplines,” said Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin. “We hoped to identify a literary classic that had important implications for science and ethics,” she added.


The University decided to use Frankenstein after careful consideration of feedback given from this year’s freshmen students and faculty.

“We received a wide variety of responses,” Martin said.

Shelley’s book was chosen after consultation with faculty members from different academic disciplines and Katherine Gottschalk, director of the First-Year Writing Seminars for the John S. Knight Writing Institute.


The decision was then endorsed by the academic deans, Provost Martin and President Hunter R. Rawlings III.

“Frankenstein is an excellent choice for discussion during orientation because it encourages inquiry and debate from many perspectives,” Gottschalk said.

“[The book] was written when the author was 18 years old, the age of many of our freshmen … which is yet another reason for it being so interesting for the first year book project,” said Vice Provost Isaac Kramnick, who made the recommendation to use Frankenstein this year.

“The book invites reflection on a number of issues, both historical and contemporary, in the sciences, social sciences and humanities,” Martin said. These issues range from, “concerns about cloning and other technologies to questions about creativity and the nature of our humanity,” she said.

Modes of Vision

Martin hopes that Frankenstein will appeal to this year’s incoming freshmen class because of its use in film in the last century. “It provides us with an opportunity to discuss a classic text from an earlier historical period and to examine its popular cultural resonances,” Martin said.

Discussion of the text will be similar to the panel and small group discussions that took place during orientation this year for the Jared Diamond title Guns, Germs and Steel;The Fates of Human Societies. “Our hope is that faculty and freshmen will enjoy and benefit from engaging together in discussion of this provocative book from one or more of many possible perspectives,” Gottschalk said.

“We plan to bring Frankenstein films to campus, including, if possible, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and to draw on the other creative arts for events related to the book,” Martin said. “Frankenstein will also be used in the freshmen writing seminars to the greatest extent possible,” she added.

While organizers find the program is useful for integrating students into academic life, many students found this year’s book choice did not inspire much discussion in them. “The discussion sessions were pointless,” said Michael Taylor ’05. “We talked about the book for 5 minutes and then the conversation quickly changed and moved off track.”

However, Adam Caslow ’05 found the concept of the program was beneficial. “Discussions were exciting because I got to meet people from all around the country, but the content was boring. Too many people I know started reading [the book] and then put it down for the rest of the summer.”

Archived article by Marc Zawel