How can we apply an interdisciplinary approach to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?

We will return to the “In Our Time” podcast to open our unit on “The Modern Era.” This particular podcast will help us appreciate Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and promises to be quite a podcast. It has been noted to be one of the best podcast in this long running, critically acclaimed series. For more on the “In Our Time” podcast, read this New Yorker article by Sarah Parker who write the Podcast Department column

Check out the Wikipedia page on the eruption of Mount Tambora:

Respond to these questions in the Schoology link for later this week. Enjoy the opening of the podcast. Then focus on minutes 9-10:30: the conversation reveals the fact that the price of bread doubled in some places because the weather impacted crop productions. Compared to central Germany, how did England survive this food issue? Furthermore, what sector of the British economy helped the whole nation survive this flour deficit?

Minutes 10:30—13:47: English Romantic writers on holiday in Switzerland were influenced by the weather. Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Lord Byron. According to the scholars, what was the genesis of the story, Frankenstein?

Minutes 20:35: Melvyn Bragg brings up the point that these poets were in the shadow of Wordsworth. We’ll come back to this point after we read these authors.

This is a great interdisciplinary topic. Apart from the topic of literature, pursue another topic, such as any aspect of the scientific topics examined, military history (Napoleon), social history issues in Europe, the western migration trends from Europe to America as well as from the east coast of American into the Midwest, or the consequence of the eruption in the Indonesian islands. Conduct some research and compose a short paragraph on your chosen topic; if you can find and incorporate compelling images or graphs to complement your prose. So feel free to venture off and research one of these topics: famine, social unrest, migration, or the opium trade that begins in this region. Likewise, if you want to appreciate the thesis regarding the political impacts of famine and apply it to one of the scholar’s theories about the recent Arab Spring, by all means let that be your avenue of research and learning. #PBL = #VoiceandChoice here!

Minutes 36:50: Was the world in a vulnerable place in 1816? Interesting discussion on epidemics. 39:35 what were the impacts on China?

Bonus minutes: includes Arab Spring theory that it began because of the food crisis. What do you think? Can you find other sources on this topic?

NB: Bryon’s poem, “Darkness” link:

Threshold into the Age of the Modern


About Bill Sullivan

I am an English teacher working with great students at Suffield Academy. I also teach seniors in various project-based learning environments. Some of the #PBL topics included global issues, such as Pandemics, Climate Change, and Water; more recently I have asked students to research and identify topics important to our school community and their generation. We curate these topics with a #StudentCenteredPBL. For the past eleven years, I also created a driving question for a class to research a local history mystery and present their findings in a community program partnering with our local historical society. These topics encompass researching the lives of enslaved individuals who were contributors to the foundation of our community.
This entry was posted in 21st Century Learning, British Literature, Interdisciplinary, Podcast, YouTube and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to How can we apply an interdisciplinary approach to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?

  1. justinhern says:

    I looked more into the science described in the podcast, specifically the scale of severity for volcanic eruptions that Clive Oppenheimer, professor of volcanology at University of Cambridge, talked about towards the beginning. It is called the Volcanic Explosivity Index, or VEI for short. It is a system that rates the severity of an eruption on a scale of 0-8, 0 being the least severe and 8 being the most. The eight different numbers each have a term associated with them to describe the explosion: effusive, gentle, explosive, catastrophic, cataclysmic, paroxysmic, colossal, super-colossal, and mega-colossal. The man in the podcast mentioned that the Tambora eruption was “super-colossal” on the scale, which is a 7. I was shocked to see just how much of an isolated incident in terms of scale the Tambora eruption was. The last eruption of a 7 or greater prior to Tambora was in 1257, while Mount Tambora erupted in 1815. Meanwhile, the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii in 79 AD was only a 5 on the VEI scale. Not only is it interesting to learn about the VEI, but it really put just how massive of a global event the eruption of Mount Tambora was.

  2. Sam says:

    The volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 caused a drastic change in European life. 1816 was described as the year “Without a Summer” because it resulted in a “severe climate abnormalities that caused average global temperatures to decrease by 0.4 –0.7 °C.” This abnormality was caused by a “volcanic winter event” that resulted from a huge eruption on Mount Tambora, in the Dutch East Indies. This was “the largest eruption in at least 1,300 years.” In Europe, the eruption caused “low temperatures and heavy rains” which caused a failed harvest in Britain and Ireland. This failed harvest initiated a famine of “wheat, oat, and potato harvests.” The eruption also hurt Germany, causing the price of food to rise dramatically. With the famine in full fledge, people started “riots, arson, and looting” in European cities. This famine quickly became the “worst famine of 19th-century mainland Europe.” The eruption lasted past winter, into summer. In Switzerland, during the summers of 1816 and 1817, ice dams developed on lakes and when they collapsed they killed 40 people. Overall, the volcanic eruption on Mount Tambora caused a huge famine on the Northern Hemisphere that affected millions of people.

  3. Alana Colaccino says:

    In 1815, Mount Tambura created the most powerful eruption in human history. It was one of the tallest mountains on the Indonesian peninsula and it had many centuries of dormancy to refill with magma. After the eruption, it shrunk about 4,000 feet. The death toll of the volcano was about 71,000 people. The eruption of the volcano was so powerful that it caused climate impacts in many geographic locations the following year. 1816 was known as “the year without a summer.” It ruined Northern American crops and created famine despite being thousands of miles away. Mount Tambura was not only devastating for Indonesians; it managed to have adverse effects on the global citizen. This is a really important example of the interconnectedness of climate. No nation lives in a bubble and we all have to contend with the environmental impacts of other countries’ circumstances and decisions.

  4. John Cremins says:

    In 1816 in Europe, there was widespread unrest due to a multitude of factors- famine, death, war, and more. Of course, these conditions helped to create tense social issues. For example, in England, many felt that Parliament no longer accurately represented the British people or their wishes. The government was evidently corrupt and seat redistribution never occurred when it should have. The government also had a very reactionary attitude, particularly in the aftermath of the French Revolution that fueled rapidly spreading democratic sentiments. Many MPs did not wish to consider the needs of the people or industries, instead heavily prioritizing their own power. Various laws were passed, such as the corn laws and the game laws which limited the importation of various foods and restricted hunting to landowners respectively. Both of these laws were clear bids to strip the people of the little power they had, and only further fueled unrest.

  5. Nick Selvitelli says:

    Napoleon Bonaparte is renowned as both a military genius and a man of small stature. His career spanned over twenty years with over seventy wins in battle and a few as eight losses. Originally intending to pursue a career as a writer, Napoleon instead was admitted to the École Militaire in Paris, where he trained to become an artillery officer. He began his career as the rank of second lieutenant in La Fère artillery regiment in September 1785. His profound early success in battle caught the eye of his superiors as He was promoted to brigadier general at the age of 24 and was subsequently put in charge of the artillery of France’s Army of Italy. After his year-long campaign in Italy, Napoleon started a campaign in Egypt to undermine England’s realm of influence and trade routes. This decision was also made in part because Napoleon believed that the French Navy was not yet strong enough to take on the British Navy. However, in August 1798, Bonaparte’s goal to strengthen the French position in the Mediterranean was ruined due to the French loss at the Battle of the Nile. Much later, because of the Russian invasion into France of 1812, the French dominion collapsed, and Napoleon was defeated in 1814. However, Napoleon returned and was finally defeated at Waterloo in 1815.

  6. Aidan Caine says:

    The eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 was the largest explosion in recorded history. Due to all the ash and debris launched into the air by the volcano, the sun was blocked and towns were covered in dust. As time went on, the abundance of small combustion particles affected the worldwide climate. The global temperatures dropped by around 3 degrees Celsius and world-wide agriculture was put on hold. Food grew to be scarce and expensive, and soon the cost of travel was also affected as horses couldn’t be fed. Eventually, all the particles cleared up and the sun came back out again.

  7. Aiden Miller says:

    In the early 19th century in England, there were many problems in all areas. Politically, there was bribery and corruption in Parliament and there was not equal seat redistribution. Financially, the nation was in major debt. By 1815, the nation debt was at 834 million pounds. There were also bad harvests due to the weather causing great economic deficit and starvation. The industry was affected, and everything cost more. Global epidemics also broke out that today still remain some of the deadliest epidemics ever. Typhus and cholera ravaged Europe and killed millions of people.

  8. 20ars says:

    The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora was the most powerful volcanic eruption recorded in human history, with a VEI of 7. In comparison, Mount Vesuvius, the volcano responsible for destroying Pompeii, has a VEI of 5. The Tambora explosion caused the deaths of an estimated 90,000 inhabitants of the islands Sumbawa and Lombok (most of them by starvation). The debris from the volcano affected the planet, contributing to crop failure in North America and epidemics in Europe. The mix of sulfuric acid, ash, and dust blocked sunlight, leading to the unseasonable chill throughout the Northern Hemisphere in 1816, the “year without a summer.” The effects of famine were felt globally. Europe, recovering from the Napoleonic wars, had food shortages, and violence took over the continent, with food riots in the UK and France, and a national emergency being declared in Switzerland. Famine in Ireland led to a typhus epidemic that claimed the lives of around 100,000 people. In New England, the corn crop failed, and only a quarter of it was consumable. This led to a rapid increase in price of wheat, grain, meat, vegetables, butter, milk, and flour. In China, this drop in global temperature caused rice crop failures in Yunnan. Other providences reported frost disrupting fields. For a global event as devastating as this one, this podcast really opened my eyes to seeing its true effects.

    • anudaramola says:

      Learning about the volcanic explosions and their effects is an interesting topic. I was intrigued by how these eruptions and the famine globally affected the world. It is interesting to understand your juxtaposition between the podcast and these calamities. 🙂

  9. Allie Mohn says:

    The 1815 explosion of the Tambora volcano is a fascinating topic. Not solely because it remains the most catastrophic explosion in the last 10,000 years, but also because it left an impactful and dire mark on so many people. The ash from the explosion lowered temperatures in North America, Europe, and Asia. The aftermath of the explosion brought famine to farmers and caused many people to travel west. I think this topic is extremely interesting because this volcanic explosion demonstrates how intertwined mankind and nature really are. This historic event draws a parallel to the devastating, destructive behavior humans partake in today that negatively impacts the environment. This event is relevant in that is shows nature will always prevail, and when push comes to shove, humans have no chance in saving themselves from their own destruction. As is the case in many historical periods, one event can lead to a significant chain reaction that changes the course of history. Not only is it fascinating how interconnected humankind is with nature, but also how intertwined humans are with other humans. The world is not as big as we make it out to be.

  10. tommasocalderan says:

    In 1816, the world was a vulnerable place in 1816. The eruption of the volcano Tambora plunged the world into a cold spell. Furthermore, there were outbreaks of various plagues, and rampant hunger issues attributed to the of poor harvests as a result of the eruption. Also, there was great social unrest in Europe. The previous year saw almost all of Europe engulfed in armed conflict with the Hundred Days War and Napoleons coming conquests into Europe. This instability and uncertainty on the continent were also added to by Spain and Britain’s oversees colonies beginning to revolt. Also, the seeds of democracy and people’s rights were beginning to be planted as European peasants grew tired with the old ways of feudalism and serfdom, leading to unrest amongst the populus.

  11. 20vdr says:

    Throughout the 1800s, China experienced a rise in opium production and distribution. Many Chinese citizens became addicted but the government kept growing opium because it was a major source of revenue. In the 1830s, China had a rapid jump in opium trade, and by 1838, 40,000 chests of opium were being imported to China. This led to the First Opium War and the Treaty of Nanking that ended the war. However, this did not stop opium production. By 1858, annual imports rose to 70,000 chests. Many ports around China opened up for transportation. China now refers to this time period as their “Century of Humiliation.” Almost every Chinese citizen was addicted to opium and their society and culture was extremely threatened.

  12. James Woolley says:

    Opium trade is something that has always been very interesting to me because my Mother’s family had many Opium “hunters” in it. My great-grandmother served as her town’s opium hunter, and helped bust sources of the illicit drug. Though this may be exaggerated, my mother told me the epidemic used to be so bad that the police could walk through town burning opium incense and the addicts would line up to follow the police just to get a whiff of the smell.

  13. vartika tiwari says:

    The 19th century was a time of political and social unrest in Britain due to many campaigns regarding ending slavery and cruel sports. On May 11, 1812, Tory prime minister Spencer Perceval was assassinated by John Bellingham, making him the only British prime minister to ever be assassinated. There were even plots to assassinate the entire cabinet! As for labor, many textile workers during 1811-1816 broke machines over the fear that they would lead to unemployment. Although it was a peaceful protest, soldiers were sent to stop them, leading to many deaths and injuries. In 1822, some reforms were introduced by a Tory government and a British individual could be hanged for over 200 offences. This era was the hub of social unrest due to the uneasiness of British citizens.

  14. Casey Eskridge says:

    The opium trade was the traffic that developed in the 18th and 19th centuries in China and other western countries which exported opium grown in India and was sold to China. Opium was first introduced to China in the 6th or 7th century by Turkish and Arab traders. Opium gradually became very popular to smoke in China which soon lead to widespread addiction and a large increase of imports of the drug. It became a large problem by 1729 prompting the emperor at the time to attempt to ban the sale and smoking of opium in China. However, the spread of opium continued in China and increased significantly in 1790. In 1800 the import of opium was made illegal again and in 1810 the Emperor issued another decree denouncing the use and trade of opium attempting to finally make it illegal.

  15. anudaramola says:

    I find Europe’s 19th century political and social issues intriguing. More explicitly in Britain, due to the vast amount of campaigns to end cruel sports and slavery, it was a time of political and social turbulence. When John Bellingham assassinated the Tory prime minister Spencer Perceval in May of 1812, plots for assassinations were on the rise. Perceval became the first prime minister assassinated and this led to more assassinations attempts towards the entire cabinet. In regards to labor, the majority of the textile workers felt the need to destroy equipment in fear of unemployment. Though they peacefully protested, soldiers were sent to stop the demonstrations, which in turn resulted in casualties. In 1822, the Tory government introduced new reforms. At this point in time, British citizens could be hung for over 200 offenses and this era culminated into a hub of apprehension and social strife for the people.

  16. sohishah says:

    The eruption of the volcano resulted in spectacular sunsets for the following year. This resulted in many paintings that helped capture the effects of this eruption on the global climate. More specifically, J. M. William Turner was able to capture the way the sky looked after the eruption. These paintings display the reddened hue of the sky that was the result of the abundant ash in the atmosphere. It conveys the darkness that was still felt even with the light of the sun shining through. I think it’s very interesting how this eruption influenced a change in artistic style and depiction of sunsets.

    • Aidan Caine says:

      Wow I think it’s really cool to note the sunsets caused by the eruption. It’s neat that there exists some beauty in such darkness. Thank you, Sohi. Very cool!

  17. nicolestjacques says:

    In this podcast, I feel as though there was a lack of attention drawn to the British’s involvement in the Opium trade in China. The podcast speakers attributed the opium crisis to pre-existing problems in China; however, this is only partially true. As you can see from the graph pictured belong, opium was being IMPORTED into China by the British. The British were aware of China’s vulnerability and exploited this, further weakening them with this drug. It is also clear that this was imported at an exponential rate. The British East India Company established a monopoly, and grew poppies in India to satiate the Chinese demand. The British had the Chinese under their control via the drugs, and according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “levels of opium addiction grew so high that it began to affect the imperial troops and the official classes.” As James noted, the epidemic was a very severe and prominent part of not just Chinese, but British history as well.

  18. Sam Manning says:

    Mount Tambura erupted in 1815, being one of the tallest mountains in Indonesia it had a catastrophic aftermath, killing nearly 71,000 people. The volcano shrank 4,000 feet after the eruption, and due to the smoke of the volcano there were many climate effects throughout the entire globe. For example, the following year devasted North American crops because of the eruption and 1816 was the year without a summer.

  19. Caroline Walsh says:

    The Mount Tambora eruption in the Indonesian islands is the “largest volcanic eruption in recorded history.” The eruption, including the “blast, pyroclastic flows, and tsunamis” caused casualties around 10,000 and destroyed roughly 35,000 homes. But while the eruption caused many deaths, disease and lack of crops caused roughly 80,000 deaths. Additionally, this is what caused the storms and “heavy snow” in western Europe, hence proving that this eruption played a key part in the creation story of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The aftermath of the eruption caused “crop failures” due to the reduced sunlight on the Earth’s surface. It was named the “year without a summer.” This eruption is most likely what caused the storm in Geneva and without it, Mary Shelley may have never written this incredible work of literature titled Frankenstein.
    This image demonstrates a possible reason for the detrimental aftereffects of Mount Tambora. It shows that there had been another eruption in 1809, six years before. This most likely caused the eruption of Mount Tambora to be much more damaging than it would have been without the 1809 eruption.

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