October 11, 2002

Frankenstein Celebrates Opening

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The opening reception for the exhibit titled “Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature” was held last evening at the Tompkins County Public Library. One of 80 sites chosen by the American Library Association and National Medical Library, who sponsored the event, the public library is currently hosting a traveling exhibit that focuses on why Mary Shelley’s novel is still relevant to today’s readers.

Janet Steiner, director of the Tompkins County Public Library is proud that Ithaca has, “shown what a town-gown relation looks like” through the community-wide reading of Frankenstein.

Isaac Kramnick, vice provost for undergraduate affairs and the man credited with choosing Frankenstein as the Freshman Reading Project for this year pointed out that Ithaca’s book project is the first such University-community joint venture in the nation. This has brought attention from National Public Radio (NPR), which will air a broadcast of last night’s opening, along with a discussion of the community initiative to read Frankenstein, on the Oct. 31 episode of Morning Edition.

Frank Robinson, director of the Johnson Museum of Art commended the library for its efforts in drawing all of Ithaca into the Frankenstein reading. The great show of support is, “one more sign of the great service the library provides to the community,” he said.

Eileen Bach, an English teacher at Ithaca High School, spoke about the school’s involvement in the project. All students are reading Frankenstein and many teachers have decided to incorporate the book into their curriculum. Bach thanked the library and Cornell, saying, “the community read has been a wonderful thing in developing community at the high school.”

Alan Mittman ’71, program manager of the office of workforce, diversity, equity and life quality at Cornell and a government professor at Tompkins County Community College (TC3) spoke about the book in a legal context. He questioned how Doctor Frankenstein would be treated in today’s courtrooms and drew attention to Mary Shelley’s “scathing critique of the criminal justice system of her time.”

Jud Kilgore, a member of the library’s board who also has an extensive medical background, promoted caution in medical advances. He said the message of Shelley’s novel, “should not be a stone wall” but rather a call for researchers to “not overreach” or “play God” in the laboratory.

Reverend Douglas Green of the Congregational Church agreed but pointed out that religion must also be incorporated into any analysis of the book.

“Frankenstein, more than anything, is a theological and religious work,” Green said.

It is the goal of the exhibition, says Susan E. Lederer, exhibit curator and professor of medical history at Yale University School of Medicine, to “destabilize assumptions about what you think the novel was about.” She led a tour of the exhibit that includes images of Shelley’s friends and family, scientific developments associated with Frankenstein, quotes from the book and images of Dr. Frankenstein and his creation’s portrayal in movies and on stage.

Since the exhibit was organized in part by the National Medical Library, many of the panels focused on medical ethics and the morality of scientific advances. It was the general consensus among speakers, especially Lederer, that Frankenstein raises the question of whether humans are able to, “use our knowledge with wisdom and responsibility.”

“Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature” will be on display until Nov. 16 at the Tompkins County Public Library.

Archived article by Melissa Korn