Welcome to this site! I am an Assistant Professor of English at Siena College, where I specialize in Victorian literature and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. In May 2019, I received my PhD in English Literature from Boston University (BU), where I also received a Graduate Certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and a Graduate Certificate in Teaching Writing.
My research and teaching focus on Victorian literature and culture, sound and music, the history of science, and gender, sexuality, and queer studies. My current book project, titled Sounding Bodies: Music and Physiology in Victorian Literature, shows how nineteenth-century scientific understandings of music’s effects on the body fundamentally transformed how the Victorians wrote about corporeal life.
I am passionate about teaching across disciplines and working with students from a variety of backgrounds. I have taught courses on topics ranging from nineteenth-century literature and science to the history of the novel, contemporary global fiction, bohemian art movements, the AIDS epidemic in literature and pop culture, and music and gender. I am also a classically trained clarinetist.
Please visit the tabs above to learn more about my research, teaching, writing, and music.
What happens to our bodies when we play or listen to music? While twenty-first-century neuroscientists like Oliver Sacks and Daniel Levitin have recently investigated this question, I argue that we can find similar lines of inquiry in a more distant source: Victorian literature. Sounding Bodies: Music and Physiology in Victorian Literature explores literary responses to emerging nineteenth-century understandings of sound science, proposing that such understandings fundamentally transformed the ways Victorian writers talked about art and corporeality.
While eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century thinkers often hailed music as a sublime, transcendent phenomenon, Victorian sound scientists like Hermann von Helmholtz and John Tyndall began to understand music as a material entity that produces energy, travels in waves, and causes vibrations — in the particles of the air as well as in the muscles and nerves of the human body. Music, they discovered, can make objects and bodies sweat, shake, quiver, and convulse.
While music was a key feature of Victorian religious, educational, and domestic life, it was this new science of music, I argue, that most fascinated Victorian authors. In the mid-to-late nineteenth century, writers from Charles Dickens to Vernon Lee began to link music and corporeality in their prose. While Romantic writers often depicted music metaphorically (as in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Eolian Harp”), Victorian authors often portrayed it in more tangible terms. Sounding Bodies demonstrates how music facilitated literary imaginations of corporeal experiences of gender and sexuality that are rarely visible in Victorian texts. Though often brief and fleeting — and at times even unrelated to the overall plot trajectories of the works in which they appear — scenes of music listening and performance reveal their authors' subversive engagements with female bodily agency, physical intimacy, sexual pleasure, homoerotic desire, temporal dislocation, and nonhuman subjectivity. When, for instance, a female violin player activates her strong arm muscles to perform, she displays and achieves a sense of physical power rarely available to her in a culture that deemed women incapable of such bodily invigoration. When a male concertgoer experiences an orgasm in response to a male virtuoso's piano performance, he accesses a same-sex erotic encounter otherwise forbidden to him. When a tragic heroine relishes the "touch" of her fingers on her piano keys, she achieves a moment of physical consolation more profound than those she finds in her social world. Though often associated with the most highbrow and conservative of ideals, music in fact fostered some of the Victorian period's most subversive representations of embodied life.
This project brings together a variety of authors across several genres (novels, short stories, and poems) to show how thoroughly the language of music physiology permeated Victorian literature. Chapter One traces the history of sound science and physiological aesthetics in the nineteenth century. Chapter Two examines novels by Mona Caird and Mary Augusta Ward in which acoustical science informs representations of female musicians as passionate and powerful producers of sound, in defiance of Victorian music critics who often dismissed female performers as dilettantes or amateurs incapable of musical careers. Chapter Three focuses on novels by Sarah Grand and Bertha Thomas in which female violinists do not perform as women, but rather dress as men in order to gain access to male-dominated musical spaces. I explore how this trope of the cross-dressing female violinist illuminates tensions between gender performativity and bodily experience. Chapter Four discusses anonymously-published pornographic works that draw explicit parallels between musical and erotic pleasure to cast both as natural bodily experiences — especially poignant in a culture that often deemed same-sex desire patently unnatural. Chapter Five centers on ghost stories by John Meade Falkner and Vernon Lee in which music facilitates moments of erotic contact between ghosts and humans — "queer" because they not only depart from normative cross-sex desire, but also extend beyond the realm of the strictly human. Chapter Six continues this investigation of the nonhuman by analyzing the intimate interactions between musicians and their instruments in works by Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy, who depict instruments as quasi-living beings that possess their own subjectivities and can feel their players' touch.
This project has been supported by a Huntington Library Short-Term Research Fellowship, the Midwest Victorian Studies Association’s Walter L. Arnstein Prize for Dissertation Research (Honorable Mention), and two Boston University Graduate Research Abroad Fellowships (for archival work in the UK). In June 2019, this project was selected as the Boston University nomination for the Council of Graduate Schools/ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Humanities and Fine Arts.
"Music Physiology, Erotic Encounters, and Queer Reading Practices in Teleny." Forthcoming in Victorian Literature and Culture.
While music often appears as a "code" for sexual desire in Victorian literature, this article explores music's presence in a text for which no veiled language was needed: the anonymously-published pornographic novella Teleny. In its musical moments, Teleny offers an insistent defense of queer desire as a natural process rooted in the organic and often involuntary actions of the muscles and nerves — a particularly powerful intervention at a time when sexual "inversion" was most often denigrated as unnatural. In its use of biological science in the service of sexual representation — science that many twenty-first century queer theorists might deem “essentialist” — Teleny presents a compelling challenge to scholars grappling with conversations about normativity, resistance, utopian desires, and idealized cultural objects.
"Alternative Corporealities in 'June Recital.' Eudora Welty's Queering of Virgie Rainey and Miss Eckhart." Eudora Welty Review 10 (Spring 2018).
This essay presents a queer reading of Eudora Welty's 1947 short story "June Recital," a text in which Welty grants her female characters — namely, the piano teacher Miss Eckhart and her student Virgie Rainey — bodies that transgress normative formulations of gender, sex, ability, selfhood, and humanness. It argues that "June Recital" reflects not simply Welty's feminist resistance to Southern patriarchal ideals of womanhood (confinement, docility, respectability) but rather her more radical, queer imagining of bodies that resist identification or categorization altogether. This essay proposes that Welty in many ways anticipated the queer turn in modernist studies, as she imagined the pleasures and powers of alternative modes of embodied existence.
"Hearing, Sensing, Feeling Sound: On Music and Physiology in Victorian England, 1857-1894." BRANCH: Britain, Representation, and Nineteenth-Century History (June 2018).
This article focuses on new developments in the burgeoning field of acoustical science that emerged in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. During this time, sound science began to flourish in England, particularly through lectures by Hermann von Helmholtz and John Tyndall at the Royal Institution. The publications of Helmholtz's On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music (1863, trans. 1875) and John Tyndall's Sound (1867) also contributed to the growing mid-century interest in acoustical theory. This entry traces the reception of these scientific ideas in musical, medical, educational, and literary circles in Victorian England. Focusing especially on new discoveries about sound's capacity to incite physiological sensations, this essay argues that acoustical science fundamentally transformed the ways that Victorians conceptualized the relations between aesthetics and the body.
"A Claim in 140 Characters: Live-Tweeting in the Composition Classroom." The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Spring 2018).
This article argues that by live-tweeting course texts and class presentations, first-year composition students develop fundamental writing skills including thesis formation, evidence incorporation, and peer review.
"Performing Power: Female Musicianship and Embodied Artistry in Bertha Thomas's The Violin-Player." Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies (Spring 2018): 14:1.
This essay proposes that Bertha Thomas's virtually unexamined novel The Violin-Player offers an alternative to literary conceptions of female performers as docile amateurs, self-important divas, domesticated performers, or failed professionals. By drawing on contemporary understandings of music's ties to physiology, Thomas imagines a performer whose musicality is so tied to her physical life that it cannot be relinquished, denied, suppressed, or ignored; Laurence must play, and others must listen. Laurence's embodied musicality grants her experiences of energy, vitality, and pleasure as well as the power to corporeally affect her listeners. By associating female musicality with the realm of the physiological and the organic, Thomas levels a critique against Victorian thinkers who described women's musicianship as unnatural, unacceptable, or impossible. Musicality, Thomas's novel suggests, exists apart from social codes, such as those based on gender, and is instead rooted in the brain, muscles, and nerves of the human body.
"'Vibrating through all its breadth:' Musical Fiction and Materialist Aesthetics in the Strand Musical Magazine. " Victorian Periodicals Review 51:1 (Spring 2018): 1-17.
The aims of The Strand Musical Magazine (SMM) were largely practical in nature; articles and advertisements provided information about concerts, festivals, and other events in Victorian musical life. Yet, as this essay argues, the periodical also participated in key nineteenth-century aesthetic and scientific debates about music's ties to the human body. In several of the SMM's short stories, characters cry, sweat, throb, convulse, quiver, and sweat while playing or hearing music. These corporeal events correspond with emerging acoustical and physiological science that understood music in terms of sound waves and bodily vibrations. The SMM thus foregrounded a conception of music not as an intangible, transcendent phenomenon but as a material force rooted in the science of sound.
Winner of the 2017 Rosemary VanArsdel Essay Prize for the best graduate student essay investigating Victorian periodicals and newspapers.
"Eudora Welty and Productive Discomfort in the Classroom." (Review of Teaching the Works of Eudora Welty: Twenty-First Century Approaches , eds. Mae Miller Claxton and Julia Eichelberger). Eudora Welty Review , Vol. 10 (Spring 2018). Solicited.
Review of James Q. Davies and Ellen Lockhart, eds., Sound Knowledge: Music and Science in London, 1789-1851. Nineteenth-Century Music Review (2018), 1-3.
Review of Benjamin Morgan, The Outward Mind: Materialist Aesthetics in Victorian Science and Literature. British Journal for the History of Science 50:4 (2017), 734-5.
In all of my classes, I strive to create an environment in which students…
Please click the tabs above for sample syllabi, course materials, and student work!
Much of what we now think of as “science” — its practices, its disciplines, and even the term “scientist” itself (coined in 1833 by the British polymath William Whewell) — can be traced back to Victorian England (1837-1901). With the shift from an agricultural to an industrial economy came a growing urban population and an almost unprecedented need for rapid advancements in technology, medicine, and mathematics. As the middle classes gained more time for intellectual pursuits and educational reforms created a new population of readers, science found eager and curious audiences who attended lectures, read periodicals, and visited museums. The explosion and consolidation of new fields of study — from anatomy and biology, to geology and astronomy, to optics and acoustics — resulted largely from the Victorians’ desires to confront their changing world and better understand their place in it.
These new scientific developments incited delight, anxiety, and confusion. At the same time that brain scientists hailed the unique complexities of the human mind, evolutionary theorists discovered humans’ kinship to microscopic bugs and cells. At the same time that the new profession of the “doctor” emerged to heal the body, anatomists dissected corpses and severed limbs. At the same time that technologies of sight and sound were helping humans to see and hear, environmental scientists realized that industrial pollution and urban noise were ruinous to the senses.
In this course, we explore Victorian literary responses to this burgeoning scientific world. While we now often think of science and literature as disparate fields, these two disciplines were closely linked in the nineteenth century. Victorian writers found in science exciting new ideas and images to incorporate into their fiction and poetry. By the same token, scientists seeking to reach a wide, public audience used literary techniques (metaphors, images, analogies) to enhance the appeal and readability of their work. How did Victorian writers absorb, question, critique, or reject the new discoveries that pervaded their world? What did science explain that literature could not — and vice-versa? What might the Victorians tell us about the relationship between the humanities and the sciences — and the possibilities afforded by their intersection — today?
From nineteenth-century Verdian opera, to Helen Reddy’s 1971 feminist anthem “I Am Woman,” to Beyoncé’s 2016 sensation “Formation,” music has long fueled movements for social change. In this course, we explore how humans have mobilized sound and song to foster explorations of gender, sexuality, race, and class. We study a variety of musical genres, including classical, jazz, blues, soul, funk, folk, rock, punk, pop, hip-hop, and rap. Our course “texts” include audio recordings, song lyrics, music videos, stories and films about musicians, and readings about music’s historical connections to social and political projects. No prior expertise or knowledge of music is required.
We investigate some of the following questions: how does music differ or depart from other artistic media — i.e. literature, theatre, dance — in its radical potential? Is there something about music itself that makes it uniquely revolutionary? What gives music the potential for subversion — is it the music itself, the lyrics, the sounds, the performers, or something more intangible? Students also consider musical contexts with more complex or vexed relationships to progressive politics — the paucity of female conductors in the classical music world, the sexist lyrics that pervade a variety of genres, and the forms of cultural appropriation displayed in music videos and performances. We also examine instances in which songs not explicitly intended for protest are mobilized as vehicles for social change (“Over the Rainbow” as a gay anthem, for instance).
This course focuses on works of contemporary fiction by Caribbean, South American, East Asian, South Asian, African, and Middle Eastern writers. We explore narratives that interrogate normative gender codes (of both femininity and masculinity), forces of colonialism and imperialism, environmental racism, and other forms of marginalization and oppression. Topics of discussion include authors’ literary imaginations of various strategies of protest and modes of resistance — even those located in unexpected places. We interrogate the word “subversion” itself and attend to characters who deploy alternative modes of passive resistance or choose not to resist at all.
From the cafés of nineteenth-century Paris to the streets of twenty-first- century Williamsburg, bohemianism has long represented a countercultural movement, an aesthetic fantasy, and an unconventional lifestyle based on “art for art’s sake,” elective poverty, and artistic community. In this course, we trace bohemianism’s origins in fin-de-siècle France to its modern-day iterations in hipster culture. We explore questions such as: when, where, how, and why do bohemian communities emerge? What dominant cultures do bohemian artists and thinkers resist? Are bohemians always quite as countercultural as we (or they) might think? Are they even countercultural at all? Who gets to take part in “la vie bohème,” and who gets left out?
"Visiting the Kelvingrove after 'Experimenting in the Galleries.'" Experimenting in the Galleries: Working with Vernon Lee (14 January 2019).
"Livable Art: Classical Music in The Ensemble and The Incendiaries." BLARB: Los Angeles Review of Books Blog (1 October 2018).
"The Man Who Invented Christmas: Dickens and the Literary Marketplace." Journal of Victorian Culture Online (18 December 2017).
"The Queen Goes to the Opera." Journal of Victorian Culture Online (5 March 2017).
"Curtis Sittenfeld's Eligible: Mary Bennet and the Difficulties of Narrating Spinsterhood." Streaky Bacon: A Guide to Victorian Adaptation (22 June 2016).
"Studying One Pandemic While Living Another." The SCoop: A Newsletter for the Siena Community. Volume 3, Issue 20. June 12, 2020.
"White Men in Wigs to Sadistic High Heels." Siena College School of Liberal Arts Blog.
"English Graduate School Seminar." Siena College Promethean.
"Combining the Love of Music and Literature." Boston University English Department.
My literary scholarship and my musical training have long been mutually reinforcing pursuits. As a classical clarinetist, I am especially attuned to moments in literature that capture the pleasures and pains of performance, the corporeal labor of practice, the vulnerability of being on stage, and the gratification of playing with others.
You can view my music resumé here and listen to some of my recordings (solo and orchestral) to the right.
Dr. Shannon Draucker
Siena College Department of English
515 Loudon Road
Loundonville, NY, 12211