Laura Kremmel is Assistant Professor of English & Humanities.
What’s your area of expertise? What do you primarily research and/or teach? And what drew you to this field?
My training is in Gothic Studies and British Romanticism (British literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries), so my expertise is in the early Gothic novels, poetry, and drama that started the Gothic tradition we still read today. I’ve always been particularly interested in two authors: Matthew Lewis, who wrote a scandalous novel called The Monk (1796), and Charlotte Dacre, who wrote an even more scandalous novel called Zofloya (1806). Both are about transgressing boundaries through shockingly graphic and gory scenes, leading me to become curious about the ways that they challenge conventional understandings of what bodies are, do, or could be.
In my teaching and recent research, I’ve expanded into the Health Humanities, history of medicine, other eras of Gothic literature, and horror film. The Gothic is so obsessed with empowering bodies of all kinds that there’s a lot of work in combining the Gothic with the Health Humanities, Disability Studies, and Death Studies. I started to see these fields coming together while visiting medical museums (like the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia), where I saw Gothic narratives being applied to the history of medicine and its impacts.
What’s one of your favorite courses, topics, or specific texts to teach? Why?
I love teaching my course “Terror & Horror: The Gothic Tradition” because it includes everything I get excited about, and it allows me to guide students through a history of Gothic literature, from the eighteenth century to today. One of the things that made the Gothic so revolutionary was that it prioritized pleasure. It wasn’t just trying to teach you a lesson or model good behavior; it invested in entertainment as valuable on its own. So, the literature is just fun! Additionally, the Gothic has a long tradition of highlighting marginalized voices, subverting the status quo, and exposing anxieties, giving us lots to talk about in class. Every time I’ve taught this class, I’ve been able to create an assignment that gets students out into the community (The Frankenstein at 200 Festival in 2018 and the Ghost Tours of Rapid City in 2021). This is a fun way for students to use their humanities skills with new audiences and purposes.
What’s something you’ve done that you’re really proud of?
I’m proud that my first book is coming out this year: Romantic Medicine and the Gothic Imagination: Morbid Anatomies. I’ve been thinking about this project for almost ten years, and it has gone through so many different iterations. It has involved international travel to archives in England and Scotland, where I accessed texts not available anywhere else, and I’m excited to share those texts with new readers. It has also involved a lot of other people, including grad school classmates, conference friends, and writing groups. Finally, I did the last push of revisions during the pandemic, when I couldn’t travel to see family, so it was a valuable security blanket for my mental health. While I’m very proud of the finished product, I’m also proud that my entire history and process as a growing scholar is contained within it.
Tell us about a book you’ve read recently, a movie you’ve seen recently, or another work of art or media you’ve engaged with recently that you really enjoyed and would like to recommend.
This was the hardest question for me! I’ll limit myself to two recommendations, a book and a movie. The book is called The Five (2019), by Hallie Rubenhold, and it’s a history of the five women murdered by Jack the Ripper. What I love about is that it’s such compassionate storytelling, acknowledging that the five had less than ideal lives but never blaming them for the hard or wrong decisions they made. This is important because history has never been kind to these women, who were caught in a system that was designed to fail them. The other thing I love about it is that it pisses off all the weirdos who idolize Jack the Ripper and are so invested in the narrative that all his victims were prostitutes (spoiler: most were not!). It’s a really great read!
I’ll also recommend Saint Maud (2019), which is a really brilliant Gothic film about a traumatized nurse/caregiver and her struggles with identity, religion, and connection, as well as the problematic healthcare system. There are some great supernatural scenes when Maud “feels the presence of God,” and the audience can never be sure if it’s all in Maud’s head or not. For those who don’t like horror films, there is really only one significant jump scare. If you’d like more analysis of it, I wrote “Saint Maud: Who Cares for the Carers?” for Horror Homeroom.
Tell us something about yourself outside of work. What do you enjoy doing? What’s a detail about you that your students might not already know?
Two things. Though I often tell my literature students, my other students don’t usually know that I used to be a Historic Haunts ghost guide when I lived in Bethlehem, PA, meaning I used to give ghost tours around town. I led a group of listeners through 10 stops with various stories at each place, including stories of Moravian settlements, the Revolutionary War, Prohibition, and even more recent haunted times. The tour concluded at the oldest continuously operating bookstore in the US, The Moravian Bookstore. I got to dress up and carry a lantern and pretend every day was Halloween.
The other thing students probably don’t know is that I’m an amateur artist and have been experimenting with all kinds of media since I was little (colored pencils, water-soluble oils, acrylics, pen & ink, photography, ceramics). Though I have less time for it lately, I was able to spend some pandemic time experimenting with gouache, which I had never used before. A lot of my work features trees, flowers, cemeteries, and skeletons.