W&J junior investigates global monster culture with Magellan Project

Created: October 25, 2017
Last Updated: July 14, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (Oct. 25, 2017)—We’ve all heard and shared stories of creatures that go bump in the night, but where does our monster lore come from?

Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) English major Kayla Marasia ’19 investigated the culture surrounding these ghoulish legends as part of her Magellan Project, traveling to Scotland, Switzerland, and France to uncover the truth behind the monsters.

“I always loved watching monster-hunting shows on Animal Planet as a child, and when I attended a Magellan informational session during my freshman year, I had the seed of an idea: ‘What if I searched for the Loch Ness Monster?’” Kayla said. “Throughout the course of my freshman and sophomore years at W&J, this thought grew from an ironic suggestion to an academic exploration. By learning about and discussing different literary periods in my English classes, I was able to create a project that was a mix between my academic and recreational interests.”

She began her journey in June in Loch Ness, Scotland, examining the local culture around the famous lake and its rumored inhabitant, Nessie. Kayla noted that the area is entrenched in tourist culture thanks to stories of the Loch Ness Monster. The legend has informed the structure of the area so much that lake cruises, gift shops and museums are the center of the community and the story of Nessie has a strong impact on the number of visitors to the Scottish Highlands, Kayla said.

Following her time in Scotland, Kayla ventured to Lake Geneva at the French-Swiss border to visit the former stomping grounds of Romance period writers, including Mary Shelley, who said that the stormy weather at Lake Geneva during the summer of 1816 sparked the story of Frankenstein.

“It was surreal to be in places that I had only dreamt of seeing,” Kayla said. “I loved standing in the footsteps of some of my literary icons; it was such a humbling experience to walk the same paths as Byron and the Shelleys and to experience the places that they experienced.”

And then it was off to Paris, where she explored the city that serves as the backdrop for Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris (known in English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame), whose main character, the physically deformed Quasimodo, is viewed as a monster by other characters in the novel. Again, she found many tourists in the area and heard some speaking of Hugo’s work.

Being in these foreign locales gave Kayla the chance to immerse herself in environments she’d only read about before and really take control of her education.

“After my Magellan Project, I’ve developed even more of a thirst for knowledge. I was able to contextualize some of my favorite literary texts, and I can now apply my experiences to classroom discussion and further academic endeavors. I plan to take my Magellan experiences with me into graduate school, and I’m already planning a Magellan for next summer,” Kayla said.

And the question on everyone’s mind—did Kayla see the Loch Ness Monster?

“That’s a sworn secret between Nessie and me,” she said.

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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