Episode 63: Expanding the Victorian Conversation with Dr. Melissa Rampelli

In Episode 63, Dan Dissinger and special guest host Dr. Meghan Nolan talk with friend, colleague, and fellow Saint John’s University Alum Dr. Melissa Rampelli from Holy Family University about the impact of the Victorian Age, Medical Humanities, and what sea monsters have to do with the 2008 Great Recession. On top of all of that, this was a mini Saint John’s University reunion!

Melissa Rampelli is Assistant Professor of English at Holy Family University where she teaches courses in British literature and first-year composititon. She is currently at work on her book manuscript, Plots of Pathology, and her article “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and the 2008 Recession” is forthcoming in the Winter 2021 issue of Modern Language Studies. Her research interests include nineteenth-century British literature and culture, the history of psychology, gender studies, medical narratives, and the novel. 

This episode was recorded on June 14th, 2021. Because we recorded via Zoom, there may be occasional audio hiccups. Our theme song is “4 am” by Makaih Beats. You can subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher and follow us on Twitter @WritingRemixPod

People and Texts Mentioned in the Episode

“Even as an undergrad I just remember that very first semester when I was actually a business major taking an English Literature course just for fun—that should have been the first sign—and we read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and something just… I still teach it to this day, there’s something that just drew me to it, and I wrote my undergrad thesis with my mentor Catherine Golden on mental health for women in 19th century. It just kind of stuck with me.” –Melissa Rampelli

“There’s work done in terms of Medical Humanities by Rita Charon from Columbia University, and a lot of work about the plot of therapeutics and why we as a culture need this plot of pathology, this idea of cause to crisis to cure and why we’re just so drawn to that.”
–Melissa Rampelli

“Maybe I’m biased, but I think the Victorian period is so important for so many different reasons […] so much is happening in terms of modern medicine like the very beginning and the fundamentals of modern medicine […] and psychology in terms of the actual physical body […] and also this really fascinating mind-body connection.”
–Melissa Rampelli

“With the Industrial Revolution, all of these hurt maimed bodies now, so this real strong focus on the able body from a real commercialized/industrialized point of view as well, what it means to be well and healthy psychologically, physically, that’s all coming so fresh in [during the Victorian period], and then you add all the gender things, which adds a whole other layer.”
-Melissa Rampelli

“In academia, we celebrate the more Cartesian divide, right, like we are not our bodies, we are disembodied, our ideas ought to be disembodied. So, to have a professor tell you to come into your body not only because of identity, but also just to like to feel how you actually feel.” –Melissa Rampelli

“It’s also a wonderful opportunity when [students] don’t understand passages to use class time to just dissect them and try to understand them together […] we’re here together, I don’t even understand every passage, let’s do it together, because then you’re really teaching them how to learn as well.” –Melissa Rampelli

“At the end of [my] Brit Lit 1, I want [students] to pay attention to craft and play with craft. Because we’ve done so much close reading of the form and function, and the meter or the metaphor […] that I want them to then be able to play with that themselves and show why Fantomina by Eliza Haywood written in 1724 is just still relevant.” –Melissa Rampelli

“I want [my students] to make Canterbury Tales relevant.”
–Melissa Rampelli

“I added some classes; like I added Women in Literature, Literature and Disability, Literature and Disability […] [Holy Family University] is really incredible about opening up the curriculum.”
–Melissa Rampelli

“I let [my students] write on whatever they want to write about, because that’s when they’re most passionate: when they have the most choice.” –Melissa Rampelli

“I don’t think [Ben] Winters poses this is what caused the recession, or even know if he even intended this by any means, it’s just a way that we could read [Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters]. But I think it doesn’t just offer one thing, because there are multiple theories of the alteration within the novel, so I think it more so, encourages us as readers to do our own research on the recession.” –Melissa Rampelli

“I did have students watch at one point Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and they had a fantastic conversation dissecting the Bennett sisters [who] are all of a sudden, like ninjas and they had this incredible like conversation dissecting how that physicality and that strength for those women actually just made manifest this feminist wit that a lot of people may have just missed in Austen in the first place, I mean the critics are always debating whether or not Austen is even a feminist.”
–Melissa Rampelli

“It was definitely gender politics [that made me interested in the Victorian and Regency periods]. As a budding 17-year old feminist coming into my own […] I think that’s what spoke to me, like the new woman […] there are these gender tropes, and I mean these gender tropes are still so relevant right like the woman in the house, the fallen woman, how short was your skirt right, I mean still so relevant today.” –Melissa Rampelli

“We had really good mentors [at Saint John’s University].”
–Melissa Rampelli

“I doubly agree with the Comp work at Saint John’s because my program [at Holy Family] I teach two writing and two literature, so if I had not had that background it would have been a rude awakening.”
–Melissa Rampelli

“I think [teaching writing] strengthens how I teach and reinforce writing in my literature classes […] so to operate like literature classes aren’t writing classes it’s doing everyone a huge disservice.”
–Melissa Rampelli

Call for Contributors
Humanities Podcasting Symposium
October 15-16, 2021

The Humanities Podcasting Network is inviting expressions of interest for our first annual symposium on academic podcasting. Please use this survey to indicate which kinds of event(s) you’d be interested in organizing and to briefly describe your proposed topic. The deadline for submissions is July 15, 2021.

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