St. Olaf College | News

Student presents research at international conference

Photo by Helen Muller ’14

What started out as a fascination with monsters in literature led Libby Porter ’13 down a trail of inquiry and research that culminated this summer with a presentation at the University of Oxford’s Harris Manchester College.

Porter was the youngest researcher to attend’s 11th Global Conference, titled “Monsters and the Monstrous: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil.” The conference seeks to explore the enduring influence of monsters and the monstrous on human culture throughout history.

Porter’s research, ‘Now I am a Man’: A Modern Frankenstein, centered around the concept of monstrosity in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and a recent stage adaptation of the text by Nick Dear that was performed at the National Theater in London.

“I looked at how each text constructs and defines its conception of what is ‘monstrous’ and then compared them, looking for how the idea of monstrosity has changed over time,” says Porter. “I concluded that the modern adaptation to a theatrical format better suits our modern understanding of monstrosity, where there are no longer unknown things that go bump in the night. Instead, it is mankind itself that we have found to be the most monstrous thing of all.”

Porter was able to conduct her research and present it at an international conference thanks to the support she received from the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career and the college’s Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program.

Porter’s academic interest in monsters began long before this year’s conference. When planning her final paper assignment for the Great Conversation — an integrated sequence of five courses taken over two years that introduces students to the major epochs of Western civilization — Porter couldn’t shake her fascination with monsters and chose to examine their roles as ‘others’ in various literary works. Assistant Professor of Religion Jason Ripley suggested that she rewrite the paper and try to submit it for publication.

Porter and Ripley created an independent study course that allowed her to do just that, which enabled Porter to seize the opportunity to go to Oxford.

The conference allowed Porter to engage in discussion with individuals from a wide array of disciplines, including sociologists, anthropologists, historians, English professors, and writers.

“It was absolutely amazing and completely inspiring,” says Porter. “I came out of that conference with about nine new papers that I want to write, after having met fascinating people from around the world that I hope I will see again someday.”