MSU Billings Fall 2018 Library Lecture Series
Oct. 2 - Oct 30
6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Free and Open to the Public
Dr. Jen Lynn, Associate Professor, Department of History, MSU Billings and Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Center at MSU Billings
Making Monsters: The Devil, Demons, and Witches of Early Modern Europe
Witches occupy a central place in our popular culture and continue to be one of the most recognizable “monsters.” However, every monster is born at a specific historical moment. Out of the religious and political crises of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries emerged the idea of the diabolical “witch.” The Protestant Reformation and Wars of Religion produced fears over the devil’s work in the earthly world and the desire to root out and abolish any remnants of “pagan” beliefs. Constructing and finding the “monsters” responsible for death, diseases, dying farm animals, and ruined crops became a mission for theologians, natural philosophers, jurists, and clergymen. Why were they were convinced that women, in particular, practiced maleficia, or evil spells? Why did authorities believe that women’s bodies consorted with demons and the devil to renounce Christianity, cast spells, and harm their neighbors? Massive witch hunts began to seek out “witches” and resulted in horrific consequences for over one-hundred thousand women across Europe. The creation of monstrous women, of “witches,” was a way to place blame, enforce social norms, and create order and stability during crises.
Dr. Joseph D. Bryan, Assistant Professor of History, MSU Billings
Divine or Natural? Marvelous or Deviant? Monstrous Bodies in European History, 1500-1700
From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, European fascination with the “monstrous” grew and explanations of “monsters” evolved in response to the discovery of the Americas and increased knowledge of human and animal bodies. The bounds of nature were stretched to fit such seeming aberrations as gigantic sea serpents, a child born with the head of a frog, a colt with a human face, and bodies of indeterminate sex (“hermaphrodites” in early-modern terminology). What did it mean, then, to be a “monster” in early-modern Europe? From what sources did Europeans draw knowledge of monsters? Where was the line between the natural and the unnatural, wonder and abomination? In order to answer these questions, this presentation will examine sea and land creatures from foreign continents, the creation of misshapen beings through reproductive defects (the “maternal imagination”), and the perceptions of “hermaphrodites” as both naturally monstrous and socially deviant. In early-modern Europe, monsters not only represented disorders in nature and supernatural omens; they also prescribed boundaries for social and sexual behavior.
Dr, Jay M. Smith, Professor, Department of History, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
Imagining the Monstrous in Eighteenth-Century France: The Case of the Beast of the Gévaudan
In early-modern Europe, wolves--both the rabid and the non-rabid kind--caused the deaths of thousands of people, most of them rural laborers who toiled in fields and meadows. In south-central France in the middle 1760s, peasant women and children suffered a seemingly endless series of attacks by a beast that eventually claimed over one hundred lives. As the tragedy unfolded, the great majority of those who paid attention, whether in the Gévaudan region that was home to the attacks or elsewhere throughout the country, agreed that the predator causing these ravages could only be understood as a "monster." Why did they make this assumption? How did the assumption inform their responses to the emergency? Why did French people cling so insistently to the belief that a monster had to be culpable for the depredations, even as accumulating evidence pointed to wolves? Was there something about the age of Enlightenment--the 1760s saw the high water mark of this "modern" cultural phenomenon--that made people particularly susceptible to beliefs many would later label as irrational? Using the example of an unusually famous French monster, this lecture will explore the borders between lightness and darkness, knowledge and speculation, order and disorder, and the normal and the fantastic at the dawn of modernity.
Dr. Rachael Waller, Associate Professor of Education, MSU Billings
Dr. Melanie Reaves, Assistant Professor of Education, MSU Billings
Let's Talk About the Snuffleupagus in the Room: The Influence of Monsters in Children's Social Worlds
Sesame Street is watched by 6 million children each week; there are more than 82 million Sesame Street “graduates” who grew up watching the show that debuted in 1969. This groundbreaking show has featured over 125 monster characters who are part of shaping the social, emotional, and academic lives of its viewers. Using video examples, Dr. Rachael Waller and Dr. Melanie Reaves demonstrate how the monsters of this show work to intentionally construct a set of shared meanings as everyday resources for cultural life.
Dr. James Barron, Professor, Biological and Physical Sciences, MSU Billings
Cryptozoology – The Search for Monsters: Critical Thinking and the Probability of Unique Existence
This lecture examines the topic of cryptozoology through the lenses of logic, critical thinking and probability. Several well-known examples (Sasquatch, Loch Ness Monster etc.) are discussed.