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Spring Humanities Center Lecture Series - "Our Monsters, Ourselves"

Posted 01/23/2017
Submitted by Nicholas Ealy
Category: Campus Announcements

The University of Hartford Humanities Center Lecture Series for Spring 2017 focuses on the theme of “Our Monsters, Ourselves,” developed and led by Dr. Amanda Walling who teaches in the department of English and Modern Languages (A&S).

Four University of Hartford Humanities Center Faculty Fellows and six distinguished presenters will speak on Tuesday evenings at 7:30 p.m. between February 7 and April 18 in the Dana 201 (Mali 1) Lecture Hall.

All lectures are free and open to the public.

Through the topic “Our Monsters, Ourselves,” the lecture series will examine how we humans, across the centuries, have used stories about monsters to better understand ourselves: our fears, our desires, lines that should not be crossed, and what makes us who we are. Monsters, as these lectures explore, make a culture’s unspoken rules visible and embody the cultural, political, racial, religious or sexual differences that challenge our self-conception.

The schedule for the lecture series is as follows:

February 7: “The Monstrosit(ies) of Gender” by Dr. Kristin Comeforo, Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Hartford and a Humanities Center Faculty Fellow. In this talk, Dr. Comeforo will discuss how we have come to see gender non-conforming trans* individuals as monsters through a review of mass-media and entertainment representations of trans* in general. With a PhD in Communication from Rutgers, Dr. Comeforo’s research focuses on the economic and ethical intersection concerning the LGBTQ community as a market and the representation of the community in mainstream advertising.

February 14: “The Sadism of Ordinary Men: Nazi Monsters or Nazi Humans?” by Dr. Avinoam Patt, Feltman Professor of Modern Jewish History at the University of Hartford. This talk will address the question as to why we seem more comfortable with viewing Nazis as monsters than with facing the possibility that they might be ordinary human beings like the rest of us. Dr. Patt holds a PhD in History from NYU. His research focuses on topics related to Jewish culture before, during and after the Holocaust.

February 21: “Monstrosity and Metaphor in the 2016 Presidential Contest” by Dr. Erin Cassese, Associate Professor of Political Science at West Virginia University. In this talk, Dr. Cassese will examine the ways in which critics of Donald Trump on both the right and the left invoked a discourse of monstrosity to describe him and his actions during the 2016 presidential contest. Such discourse, she argues, reflects processes of dehumanization and moral distancing while exposing fears that lurk beneath the surface of public life. Dr. Cassese has a PhD in Political Science from SUNY Stony Brook and writes about gender and race in American Politics.

February 28: “Monstrous Non-Monsters: Modern and Contemporary Art” by Dr. Fran Altvater, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Hartford and Humanities Center Faculty Fellow. This talk will explore how various modern and contemporary artists have chosen to move beyond typically recognizable features when depicting monsters. The fact that such non-representational monsters abound though, Dr. Altvater posits, does not diminish from their monstrosity, since we still want to believe in them as authentic reflections of our experiences. With a PhD in Art History from Boston University, Dr. Altvater works primarily on Romanesque sculpture and the liturgical art of the Middle Ages.

March 7: “Desire and Horror: Monstrous Women in Feminist Performances of Frankenstein and Dracula by Dr. Erin Striff, Associate Professor of English at the University of Hartford and Humanities Center Faculty Fellow. In this talk, Dr. Striff will trace the evolution of monstrous women in Dracula and Frankenstein from the 1980s to the present. Specifically focusing on feminist adaptations, she will analyze how the female characters of these works choose a monstrous otherness that allows them to possess power and, in the process, subvert more traditional adaptations where they are highly sexualized. Dr. Striff holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Wales, Cardiff. In addition to specializing in feminist theatre, she is a published playwright whose works have been performed in both the US and the UK.

March 14: “Exploring the Monsterscape of New England” by Jason Ocker, Author. Jason Ocker is the author of three award-winning macabre travelogues, The New England GrimpendiumThe New York Grimpendium and Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allen Poe. His latest book, A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts (Countryman Press, 2016), is the result of his move to Salem with his family for the month of October in order to, as he says, “get at the heart of one of the weirdest cities on the planet during its weirdest time of the year.” He also runs the website “OTIS: Odd Things I’ve Seen” (, where he chronicles his visits to oddities of nature, history, art and culture.

March 28: “Mourners from Outer Space!” by Dr. Sarah Senk, Assistant Professor of Culture and Communication at Cal State Maritime University. This talk will examine how the monstrous otherness of outer space featured in a spate of recent science-fiction films serves as a catalyst for exploring mourning, memory and loss. Dr. Senk has a PhD in Comparative Literature from Cornell University and writes about issues related to memory, mourning, melancholy, trauma, Anglophone Post-Colonial literature and 9/11 studies.

April 4: “Simianization and Monsterization in Planet of the Apes by Dr. Susana Loza, Associate Professor of Media Culture at Hampshire College. Dr. Loza’s talk will explore monstrosity and racial masquerade in the film Planet of the Apes all the while contemplating the fundamental, albeit changing, role that ethnic simulation plays in our presumed post-racial and post-colonial era. Dr. Loza holds a PhD in Comparative Ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley and researches the social construction of race and sex in speculative media; power, privilege and cultural appropriation; gender and ethnic performativity; the activist potential of social media; and the post-racial turn in popular culture.

April 11: “Jewishness and Monstrousness in the Late Middle Ages” by Dr. Maria Esposito Frank, Professor of Italian and Renaissance Studies at the University of Hartford and Humanities Center Faculty Fellow. Dr. Frank’s talk will explore the ways in which Christians’ negative perceptions of Jews in Europe during the late Middle Ages shifted according to different social, political or natural events. In addition to these shifting images of Jews, she will discuss the passage from anti-Judaism to anti-Semitism, characterized by the growing isolation of Jews and the general deterioration of their legal situation. Dr. Frank has a PhD in Italian Studies from Harvard and writes about issues pertaining to the Late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance, women’s studies, translation studies and poetry.

April 18: “Serial Killers in Ancient Greece and Rome” by Dr. Debbie Felton, Professor of Classics at UMass Amherst. In this talk, Dr. Felton will examine the likelihood that stories of familiar monsters as well as of certain human characters from ancient literature were based on an understanding of real-life serial mutilation murders. She holds a PhD in Classics from UNC Chapel Hill and researches folklore in classical literature, with particular attention to the supernatural and the monstrous.

The Humanities Center Honors Seminar is a two-semester course for honors students. The Lecture Series on “Our Monsters, Ourselves” in Spring 2017 is open to all students, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the community. Lectures begin at 7:30 p.m. in Dana 201 (Mali 1) Lecture Hall and are free and open to the general public. The Humanities Center at the University of Hartford supports interdisciplinary scholarship focusing on the humanities through arts, sciences, technology, media, psychology, history, film, philosophy and literature. For more information, contact Nicholas Ealy, Interim Director, at