Szwydky, "Mary Shelley in Context(s): Wikis and Blogs in Romanticism Courses"

Mary Shelley in Context(s): Wikis and Blogs in Romanticism Courses

Lissette Lopez Szwydky 
Assistant Professor of English, University of Arkansas

“Mary Shelley in Context(s)”—a course designed for advanced undergraduates and graduate students—combines period-specific literary studies, gender studies, and digital humanities to reimagine the spirit of Romantic collaboration in the twenty-first century classroom. The course has two innovative qualities: (1) its primary focus on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s writings in conversation with her canonical contemporaries and (2) the development of an ongoing, public wiki project.

Selected readings illustrate a range of thematic interests and political engagement with the major conversations of her day. We read Shelley’s fiction alongside the works of first- and second-generation Romantic writers, showing how these texts work in conversation with one another and emphasizing the spirit of collaboration and exchange that was central to Romantic literary and cultural production.

Community is the central recurring theme of Mary Shelley’s fiction, and writing assignments are designed to reproduce the spirit of community both in and out of the classroom. Instead of writing papers exclusively for the professor, students become part of an online writing community by posting a series of entries to a public course wiki located at I developed this site as an ongoing digital project where each class builds upon the previous class’s work with the goal of developing a free, online resource for students and scholars interested in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s works, contexts, impact, and related scholarship.

Pedagogically, the wiki assignments several purposes. First, collaborative online writing asks students to actively consider how communities create and propagate knowledge. The practice and experience that the students develop by participating in the wiki community also helps to build a broader skill set valued by future employers (which students appreciated greatly) and help students differentiate between academic writing and writing for non-academic audiences. In developing the course wiki, I have put together a model that I believe is sustainable and innovative. I plan to use the wiki model in additional courses as well—sometimes feeding other courses into the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wiki (or creating new wikis as appropriate). For example, when I teach ’s multimedia cultural history during Spring 2015, students enrolled in that course will be asked to populate the “Impact” section of the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wiki, focusing on adaptations in different media (drama, film, graphic novels, children’s books, games, etc.). A course that takes a more comprehensive approach to British Romanticism may focus more on populating the “Contexts” section and providing details on the period’s politics and social movements.

Mary Shelley in Context(s): Wikis and Blogs in Romanticism Courses

Lissette Lopez Szwydky, Assistant Professor, University of Arkansas

Email: or Twitter @LissetteSz A public wiki dedicated to Mary Shelley’s life, works, legacy, and the Romantic period. The site is organized as follows:

  • Context & Works (People, Romantic Period, Works by M. Shelley)
  • Cultural Impact (Adaptations, Appropriations, and other ephemera)
  • Scholarship (Book Reviews, Article Guides, Teaching and Internet Resources)

Wiki Assignment Overview: Each student will post 3 entries (of 1,000-1,2000 words each) to the public course wiki available at Each category below will be covered:

(1) Historical Context / Circles / Contemporaries entries will focus on people, political issues, or historical movements that influenced Mary Shelley’s writings. Major events/trips in Shelley’s life are also acceptable (with instructor approval). The goal of this assignment is to help wiki visitors understand Shelley’s work in relevant biographical, historical, and political contexts.

(2) Scholarly Book Overview/Review entries will provide an overview and review of a book-length scholarly work focused primarily on Mary Shelley, her writings, or her circles/contemporaries. (Students may also choose a series of 3 thematically linked articles for this assignment.) The goal of this entry is to help develop a working online bibliography (with extensive annotations) of Mary Shelley scholarship to aid other students and scholars in their research.

(3) Analytical/Textual entries will focus on a work by Mary Shelley or on a text that directly influenced her work. Entries may focus on thematic analyses, character analyses, theoretical readings, or other related topics. The goal of this entry is to provide wiki visitors with an informed overview and/or interpretations of Shelley’s writing and to (possibly) help them develop/choose their own topics for further analysis.

Students may work collaboratively on wiki entries #1 and #3, as long as each contributor meets the required word length. Entries should demonstrate a clear understanding of audience (i.e. should be tailored for wiki visitors drawn primarily by an interest in Shelley’s life and work). Entries should also include references, works cited, and in-text hyperlinks to aid in reader comprehension and research.

Final Papers/Projects for Mary Shelley in Context(s): Each student will complete a significant paper/project that demonstrates familiarity with Mary Shelley scholarship. The project may be in the form of a traditional research paper (8-10 pages for undergraduates; 20-25 pages for graduate students), or an equivalent amount of work presented in any of the following formats: a series of linked wiki articles; a multimedia project; a comprehensive social media project (i.e. setting up a heavily populated blog on a relevant topic); a creative adaptation of any of Shelley’s works (accompanied by a short, critical reflective piece). Students are encouraged (but not required) to post or link their final projects to the course wiki.

Use in Additional Courses: During Spring 2015, students enrolled in “Romanticism: Revolution, Nature, and Gothic” and “: A Multimedia Cultural History” will populate the “Romantic Period” and “Cultural Impact” sections respectively.

Additional course sites related to my larger pedagogical project: A multi-author course blog developed for and populated by students enrolled in ENGL 2313: Survey of British Literature, 1700-1900. Assignments are categorized using the following organizational/approach:

  • Text (close or comparative readings)
  • Context (contextual readings focusing on social-historical contexts or authors)
  • Legacy (tracing a particular work’s influence on later texts, adaptations, etc.) A public wiki using adaptation studies and history as a central organizing principle under the following general categories: Narratives; Adaptations (including Film & TV, Theater, Comics & Illustrated Books, Texts, Games & Digital Media); and Scholarship (book reviews and article guides).

ENGL 4603/5403: Studies in 19-Century British Literature and Culture
Mary Shelley in Context(s)

Course Description:

This course will examine the conception, birth, life, and afterlife of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s fiction in historical, political, literary, global, and popular contexts. We will read Shelley’s fiction alongside selections by John Milton, Edmund Burke, Ann Radcliffe, Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and others. The course will end with an abridged adaptation history of Frankenstein from nineteenth-century dramas to contemporary films. Mary Shelley provides a unique point of reference to Romantic-period writing due to her extensive connections to both the first and second generation writers of the Romantic period, as well as her understanding of the shifting demands of the literary marketplace of the 1830s.

Required Texts:

  • Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein. Ed. Susan J. Wolfson. Longman Cultural Edition. Second Edition. 0321399536 978-0321399533.
  • ---. Mary Shelley: Collected Tales and Stories with original engravings. Ed. Charles. E. Robinson. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN-10: 0801840627 ISBN-13: 978-0801840623. (Specially discounted copies may be available through publisher’s website at
  • ---. The Last Man. Wordsworth Editions. ISBN-10: 1840224037 ISBN-13: 978-1840224030.
  • ---. Lodore. Broadview Editions. ISBN-10: 1551110776 ISBN-13: 9781551110776.
  • ---. Falkner. Wildside Press.
  • Mary and Maria by Mary Wollstonecraft & Matilda by Mary Shelley (Penguin Classics) ISBN-10: 0140433716 | ISBN-13: 978-0140433715

Etexts (available on electronic course reserves/BlackBoard):

  • Mary Wollstonecraft, selections from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
  • ---. Selections from Maria; or, The Wrongs of Woman
  • William Godwin, selections from An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice
  • ---. selections from St. Leon
  • Ann Radcliffe, “On the Supernatural in Poetry”
  • John Milton, selections from Paradise Lost
  • Lord Byron, Manfred: A Dramatic Poem
  • ---. “Darkness”
  • ---. The Deformed Transformed
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley, selected poetry
  • John Keats, The Eve of St. Agnes
  • William Wordsworth, selected poetry

Films: All students will watch films outside of class to prepare for class discussion. All of the films listed are available for rental via Netflix and other sources.

  • Rowing with the Wind (1988)
  • Frankenstein (1931)
  • Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
  • The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)

Final Grades/Assignments:

45% 3 wiki assignments (15% each)

25% Research Paper/Multimedia Project/Wiki Project

20% Final Exam

10% Attendance and Active Participation

T Course Introductions; Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: A Timeline
R Unit 1: Circles and Contexts -- Film Discussion: Rowing with the Wind (1987) -stream on Netflix
T Reading Due: Mary Wollstonecraft, selections from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Maria; or, The Wrongs of Woman; William Godwin, selections from An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Caleb Williams; or, Things as They Are
R Romanticism and the Sublime -- Reading Due: Edmund Burke, from A Philosophical Enquiry into Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful; Ann Radcliffe, “On the Supernatural in Poetry”; Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Mont Blanc,” and “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty”
T Satanic Heroes, Byronic Heroes, and Wanderers --Reading Due: John Milton, from Paradise Lost; Percy Bysshe Shelley, from Prometheus Unbound
R Reading Due: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner; Lord Byron, from ; William Godwin, from St. Leon
T Unit 2: Mary Shelley’s Fictions
Reading Due: Frankenstein, Volume I
Assignment(s) Due: 1. Wiki Entry #1 (Biographical / Historical Context Entry)
2. Identify the book you will review for Wiki Entry #2 on wiki
R Reading Due: Frankenstein, Volume II
T Reading Due: Frankenstein, Volume III
R Frankenstein Wrap-Up
T Reading Due: The Last Man, Volume I
R Reading Due: The Last Man, Volume II
T Reading Due: The Last Man, Volume III and Lord Byron, “Darkness”
R Reading Due: Lodore, Volume III
T Reading Due: Falkner, Chapters 1-20; from W. Wordsworth,
Assignment Due: Wiki Entry #2 (Scholarly Book Overview/Review Entry)
R Reading Due: Falkner, Chapters 21-37
T Reading Due: Falkner, Chapters 38-52
R No class-Break (Official School Holiday)
T Reading Due: Mathilda
R Unit 3: Mary Shelley’s Short Fiction -- Reading Due: “A Tale of The Passions”
T Reading Due: “Roger Dodsworth: The Reanimated Englishman,” and “Valerius: The Reanimated Roman”
R Reading Due: “The Mortal Immortal: A Tale”
T Reading Due: “Transformation” and Lord Byron’s The Deformed Transformed
R Reading Due: “Fernando Eboli: A Tale,” “The Sisters of Albano,” and “The Heir of Mondolfo”
T Reading Due: “The Dream” and John Keats’s The Eve of St. Agnes
Assignment Due: Wiki Entry #3 (Fiction Entry)
R No Class-Break (official school holiday)
T Reading Due: “Euphrasia: A Tale of Greece” and “The False Rhyme”
R Unit 4: Adapting Mary Shelley
Lecture: Frankenstein Adapted: An (Abridged) Cultural History since 1823
Reading Due: Richard Brinsley Peake, Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein
T Film Discussion: Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
R Film Discussion: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)