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Emory class sinks its teeth into Bram Stoker archive at Rose Library
people looking at stage diagram

Graduate student Max Schweigl, rare book librarian Beth Shoemaker and English professors Sheila Cavanagh and Joonna Trapp examine an undated “Dracula” stage plan from Emory’s John Moore Bram Stoker collection. The “Monster in the Library” class, co-taught by Cavanagh and Trapp, offered an opportunity for intense, individualized study of the collection.

— All photos by Emory Photo Video

On a recent overcast afternoon in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, a group of people gathered around an undated stage diagram of a “Dracula” production, poring over the placement of the vampire’s coffin, a day bed and a window, and even a bat release hidden in the corner.

English professors Sheila Cavanagh and Joonna Trapp, graduate student Max Schweigl and Rose Library rare book librarian Beth Shoemaker pooled their knowledge of theater, archives and Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” as they deciphered clues among the diagram’s notations.

The stage diagram is just one of many fascinating items in the John Moore Bram Stoker collection spanning 1707-2020, housed in the Rose Library. Cavanagh and Trapp’s “The Monster in the Library” is the first class to have an intense, individualized experience using the Stoker collection since it was acquired by the Rose Library in 2021.

Lessons with a vampire

The class has been immersive, with readings and video presentations from scholars and authors, plus research and written assignments. The class also includes group time working with materials from the Stoker collection, with help from Shoemaker and Rose’s head of research services, Gabrielle Dudley. Students then develop projects based on their research and discovery in the archive.

The class was kept small deliberately, says Trapp, who is also senior lecturer in English and director of the Emory Writing Program. “Because it’s so hands-on, it needed to be manageable.”

Nine students constitute the class, which drew an array of Emory students from different backgrounds and countries, including Austria, India, the Netherlands and Colombia. There are undergraduates, graduate students and PhD candidates. One student is from Candler School of Theology, which Cavanagh said is a first for her.

German translation of Dracula

Graduate student Max Schweigl of Austria examines the title page of the 1768 German book on ghosts and vampirism, reading the archaic typeface aloud with ease.

Schweigl, who came from Austria to work on his PhD in literature and cultural studies with an emphasis on horror movies, spent his time in the Rose Library poring over several items in the Stoker collection.

“The way Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ has influenced horror cinema is of great interest to me,” Schweigl says. One item that caught his attention was a 1768 German book, “Abhandlung des Daseyns der Gespenster, nebst einem Anhange vom Vampyrismus,” which translates to “Treatise on Daseyn’s Ghosts, together with an Appendix on Vampirism.” He read the archaic German typeface with ease.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Schweigl says of working in the Rose Library archives. “As a student of history, I really get immersed in it. Reading his [Stoker’s] work and the other books that he consulted when he was writing ‘Dracula,’ I do sort of feel like he’s looking over my shoulder,” he adds with a smile.

Apala Bhowmick, a PhD candidate in English, became fascinated by the materials on F. W. Murnau’s German expressivist film “Nosferatu” (1922) and the adaptations of its predecessor, Stoker’s “Dracula.”

“All the aspects of the class have been quite interesting so far, but I think I’ve enjoyed the archival research part of it the most,” Bhowmick says. “I enjoy hunting for bits of data in archives.”

Guest speakers throughout the course have introduced students to the many paths Stoker scholars have taken. The Bram Stoker lecture series included top “Dracula” researchers and Victorian-era experts.

On April 20 — the 110th anniversary of Stoker’s death — the students will present their final projects, and Stoker scholar David Skal will present as the final guest lecturer. Skal’s talk is open to the public online, and those interested can register here.

From Ireland to Emory students

After the Bram Stoker collection arrived at the library in 2021, Shoemaker and Sarah Quigley, head of collection processing, played significant roles in getting the collection unpacked, cataloged, processed and prepared for students and researchers, including creating a detailed finding aid that makes the materials much easier to request.

“Student access to the materials is the reason we prioritized this acquisition,” says Rose Library director Jennifer Gunter King, who acquired the collection.

female student looking at Dracula flyer

Halle Brown, a double major in English and information systems/operations management, reviews newsletters from Bram Stoker and Dracula fan organizations.

“I can’t say enough about this team’s outstanding work on this collection, from the first discussion of the acquisition to the moment it arrived here from Dublin,” King says. “The teamwork that has gone into making this collection available to students and researchers is inspiring. We are thrilled to see professors Cavanagh and Trapp jump right in, creating an opportunity for Emory students to have personal experience with rare books and archives.”

Shoemaker and Dudley worked with the “Monster in the Library” students during two hands-on research sessions in the Rose Library, as well as any individual research time the students scheduled.

“It is important for students to use special collections libraries and materials like those in the Bram Stoker collection because it helps them to grow as scholars,” Dudley says. “The students in this course are among the first to access the materials and in many ways have the first chance to interpret the materials, which is a unique opportunity for them.”

“Watching students interact with the materials and ask some really probing questions and make discoveries in the collection is exactly why we acquire collections like Stoker,” Shoemaker says. “Facilitating student researchers is the reward for all the background work the collection requires.”

Practicality of the class in the future

The nature of the students’ final projects, whether it be a paper, a digital project or something else, is entirely up to the individual, Cavanagh says.

“I always encourage my students to think about their career trajectory and what is going to be most helpful for them, so they have a fair bit of latitude for their final projects in terms of what they do with the material,” she says. “They might put together a course module if they think they may be teaching something, or they might write a newspaper article or a nonfiction essay. It really depends on what will help them get closer to where they want to be.”

Whatever they choose for their final project, the experience of this class — working with the materials that influenced Stoker as he developed “Dracula” and researching the many ways his famous vampire has influenced others in literature and culture — is one these students aren’t likely to forget.

“One of the things about working with original sources is that it makes great conversation,” Cavanagh says. “It gives you something you can talk about in a job interview or when you’re out with friends or home for the weekend. For the graduate students, it gives them an opportunity to think about what kind of archival research they might want to do more broadly. It makes them think, how can I take this experience and build it into something else I want to pursue further?”

college student and teacher looking at Dracula posters

Rose Library rare book librarian Beth Shoemaker helps Josh Winston, a PhD candidate in English literature considering a class project on Dracula in film theory, spread out vampire-themed movie posters from the Bram Stoker collection.

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