It's Alive!: The Science of Shelley's Frankenstein

It's Alive!: The Science of Shelley's Frankenstein
A living history presentation by Dean Howarth and Abigail Fine
A family program suitable for all ages, best for ages 8-16.

Saturday, October 22, 2016
2:00pm to 3:00pm
Presidential Suite
National Museum of American History
14th Street and Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC

For access services, please contact us at or 202-633-2241, preferably two weeks in advance of the program. To help us plan, please click here to RSVP

Parents should be aware that elements of surgery, mortality, and anatomy will be addressed, but nothing beyond that which may be heard in middle-school science class. With themes befitting the Halloween season, it may not be for the faintest of hearts!

At the turn of the 19th century the nascent study of Electrical Fluids was transforming from a titillating parlor recreation to a true form of modern science. During the time of Franklin, the shocking escapades of the Electricians were primarily forms of entertainment where “doses of electrical fluid” where shared with the audiences. Gentlemen were challenged to kiss electrified ladies, hair was made to stand on end, and the latest electrical toys were displayed. Natural philosophers sought more practical uses of electricity and electro-physicians, like London’s Dr. James Graham, who claimed that electricity could cure all ills… and even provide a spark to one’s love life!  In Italy, Alessandro Volta and Luigi Galvani sparred over the physiological effects of electricity. Volta’s Pile (the first electrical battery) had new practical applications in chemistry andmedicine where the followers of “Galvanism” felt that electric currents were the vital source of life.

The greatest proponent of this theory, Giovanni Aldini took the electro-medical experiments to the extreme, proposing that electric shocks could revive the dead. The macabre public experiments by Aldini and other “resurrectionists” would horrify audiences… and eventually inspire Mary Shelley’s (portrayed by Abigail Fine) famous story of the resurrected  monster, Frankenstein. Based on his experience as a veteran science educator and collaborator with museums and historic sites Mr. Dean Howarth, in his role as the Natural Philosopher, will use a collection of replica instruments and props to engage and entertain his audience by recreating some the aforementioned experiments and share the stories of the early days of Electrical Fire.