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What Makes a Monster?: Satellite Exhibitions at the USC Libraries

The new exhibition What Makes a Monster? explores how human have long found wonder in the strange and macabre, from mythical creatures to the real world freak show artists, microscopic pathogens, and monstrous criminals.

What Makes a Monster? Satellite Displays



The multipart exhibition is centered in USC's Doheny Memorial Library Treasure Room, with satellite displays on topically relevant themes in the USC Helen Topping Architecture & Fine Arts Library, Norris Medical Library, Science and Engineering Library, and the VKC Library and Public Affairs.

Exhibition items on display include materials from the USC Libraries Special CollectionsONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives and the USC Cinema Library

Helen Topping Architecture & Fine Arts Library

Over the centuries, artists around the world have incorporated monstrous imagery inspired by religion, folklore, myths, legends, and their imaginations. Thanks to technical advances in the field, Renaissance painters such as Hieronymous Bosch, DiericBouts, Pieter Breugel, and Caravaggio were able to create realistic scenes out of the most hellish of visions.

Influenced by the Romantic Movement of the late 1700s–early 1800s, artists like Caspar David Friedrich, Henry Fuseli, and Francisco Goya—and later, Max Ernst—explored the boundary between light and dark, life and death, dreams and wakefulness. Artists today such as Douglas Gordon, Wangechi Mutu, and USC’s own Charlie White continue to work within our collective fascination with demons, internal and external.

“Medusa” by Caravaggio, from The First Medusa (Milan: 5 Continents, 2011)

“The Nightmare” and “The Three Witches” by Henry Fuseli, from Dark Romanticism: From Goya to Max Ernst (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012)

“Night Scene with Witches” by Francisco Goya, from Witches: Exploring the Iconography of the Sorceress and the Enchantress (Florence: Centro Di, 2005)

“Roger Freeing Angelica” by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, from Here be Dragons: A Fantastic Bestiary (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2003)

“Red Wolf-Headed Mistress of Dakinis” (left) and “Red Zombie-riding Protectress” (right), anonymous paintings from 19th-century Tibet, in Demonic Divine: Himalayan Art and Beyond (New York: Rubin Museum of Art, 2004)

Max Ernst, Une semaine de bonté (New York: Dover, 1976) 

“Monster” by Douglas Gordon, from Disparities & Deformations: Our Grotesque (Santa Fe: SITE Santa Fe, 2004)

“Highland Park” by Charlie White, from Monsters (Brooklyn: Powerhouse Books, 2007)

Norris Medical Library

Throughout most of medical history, people with unexplainable pathologies (whether real or imagined) have been called monsters. Here we explore various physiological and psychological conditions deemed “monstrous” in the past and how over time physicians grew to have a greater understanding and acceptance of human variation. 

Clinique photographique de l'Hôpital Saint Louis by Alfred Hardy (Paris: Chamerot et Lauwereyns, 1868)

The unfortunate woman seen here suffers from pemphigus foliaceus, an autoimmune disease in which the epidermis and mucous membranes are attacked, causing disfiguring blisters and scaly lesions. This book was one of the first to use photography to show the horrifying effects of dermatological diseases. 

De Monstris by Fortunio Liceti (Amsterdam: Andreae Frisii, 1665) and De la Nature, des Causes, des Différences des Monstres d’après Fortunio Liceti translated by François Houssay (Paris: Hippocrate, 1937)

A wide variety of conditions, both real and fanciful, are juxtaposed in this early pathology work. The original 1665 publication includes a number of depictions of imaginary creatures—such as a pig with a human head and an animal with human legs coming out of its rear end, with the author speculating that these creatures were the product of bestiality. However, it also illustrates a number of obscure real world conditions like conjoined twins, as shown in this 1937 French translation.

De Conceptu et Generatione Hominis by Jacob Rüff (New York: Medicina Rara, early 1970s [facsimile of 1587 work])

The early modern era was rife with superstitions and saw a number of publications featuring “monstrous” creatures. Rüff’s work even placed them in specific regions—the bovine-human hybrid on the left was said to come from Saxony. Another creature has a human body but the head of an elephant.

Études biologiques sur les géants by Pierre Émile Launois (Paris: Masson, 1904)

Not all so-called monsters were feared. The 8’ 2” giant Hugo, pictured here at the age of 25, was the object of great fascination at the Paris Exhibition of 1900 and other contemporary events. Launois suspected the cause of Hugo’s gigantism was a pituitary disorder called acromegaly.

Atlas of Clinical Medicine, vol. 1, by Byrom Bramwell (Edinburgh: Constable, 1892–1896)

These images and case study descriptions describe what was then-called “cretinism,” a condition characterized by exceptionally small stature coupled with developmental disabilities (now known to be caused by congenital hypothyroidism). The doctor uses what we would now deem entirely inappropriate language to describe the patient and her father, “a somewhat squat ugly Irishman.”

Portfolio of Dermachromesvol. 3, by Eduard Jacobi and J. J. Pringle (New York: Rebman, 1906)

As doctors studied pathology and disease they came to understand how infectious diseases could lead to monstrous disfigurement of patients. These colored illustrations show the effects of chickenpox and smallpox, two scarring diseases now effectively managed or eradicated, thanks to modern vaccination.

Leprosy, in Its Clinical and Pathological Aspects by Gerhard Armauer Hansen and Carl Looft (Bristol: John Wright, 1895)

Throughout history sufferers of leprosy (also called Hansen’s Disease, named after the author of this work) were routinely shunned by society due to the disfiguring effects of the disease and the fear of contagion. Antibiotics first introduced in the 1940s, and reinforced in the 1980s, have largely controlled outbreaks, although leper colonies still exist in many parts of the developing world. 

Les chancres extra-génitaux by Alfred and Edmond Fournier (Paris: Rueff et Cie., 1897) & Syphilis Wax Moulage by Nicole Antebi (New York, 2014)

Here we see syphilitic lip chancres both in the illustration and in a three-dimensional wax moulage. Moulages were sculptures made predominantly in the nineteenth century to mimic dermatologic conditions for medical teaching purposes. Here a contemporary artist has created a wax moulage after the style of its nineteenth-century predecessors.

Atlas of Clinical Medicine, vol. 3, by Byrom Bramwell (Edinburgh: Constable, 1892–1896)

Babies born with congenital syphilis, if they survived, often grew to be severely disfigured and mentally challenged as they aged, like the patient shown here. Over decades the infection can damage the brain, causing dementia and altered behavior among other symptoms, a condition known as neurosyphilis.

The Physiognomy of Mental Diseases by Sir Alexander Morison (London, 1843)

Physiognomy was the pseudoscience that held one’s character could be determined through facial expressions. This book shows faces in the throes of various kinds of mental distress (such as nymphomania and melancholy) along with the faces of “cured” patients. Here we see a 47-year-old man prone to violent mania and an accompanying image reproduced from a later page of the same man “in his sane state.” The man allegedly had already killed one person in a manic rage.

The Criminal by Havelock Ellis (London: Scott, 1890)

In this pseudoscientific attempt to predict criminal behavior, Ellis offers nonsensical charts like the one displayed, claiming to show how parental age affects whether your child will be a murderer, sex offender, thief, or generally insane. Around the turn of the twentieth century numerous half-baked scientific disciplines attempted to predict human behavior through anatomy or other circumstances present at birth.

The Illustrated Self-instructor in Phrenology and Physiology by Orson Fowler and Lorenzo Fowler (New York: Fowlers and Wells, 1855) and replica phrenological bust

Phrenology, a pseudoscientific attempt to judge one’s personality by the shape of the skull, enjoyed nearly one hundred years of popularity before being discredited in the twentieth century. This book includes a personal reading by Orson Fowler, one of the best-known phrenologists of all time. He described the book’s owner, one J. S. Wilcox, as a “man of talents” who ought “to study all the natural sciences.” This bust shows the different areas of the skull and the traits that corresponded with its prominent or recessive parts.

Phrenology, in Connexion with the Study of Physiognomy by Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (London: Treuttel, Wurtz, and Richter, 1826)

Here phrenologist Spurzheim attempts to explain one of history’s purported monsters, the Roman Emperor Caracalla, as having “the most ignoble configurations of a head which it is possible to conceive.” He goes on to describe how the shape of the emperor’s head accurately predicted his legendary cruelty and vulgarity since “the whole tendency of his mind is towards brutal pleasures.”

Physiognomy and Expression by Paolo Mantegazza (London: W. Scott, 1890)

These tree charts use aesthetic differences to draw clear distinctions among races. These kinds of images would later feed into the eugenicist movement that led to the atrocities of World War II, among other horrors.

Mongolism: A Study of the Physical and Mental Characteristics of Mongolian Imbeciles by Kate Brousseau (Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1928)

The language used in this book appears mind-bogglingly insensitive to modern ears. It begins: “The material presented in this work is based upon personal experience with Mongolian imbeciles and other types of defectives during a period of more than ten years, and additional valuable information has been obtained from a questionnaire submitted to workers in various institutions for the feeble-minded and to physicians who have made clinical observations on Mongols.” Only recently have those with intellectual and developmental disabilities been described with sensitivity rather than ghastly terminology.




Science & Engineering Library

While the word monster is used liberally to describe that which humanity at large fears, misunderstands, or finds repulsive, the world of science often recognizes such things as objects of investigation, as elements of an ordered system of knowledge. Atomic power, black holes, deep-sea fishes, parasitic insects, vampire bats, and viruses may frighten—owing to appearance, effect, or both—but in the context of scientific inquiry and description, their monstrous characteristics become explainable, if no less wondrous, phenomena.

Exhibition Items on display:

Jewel wasp emerging from a cockroach, from Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature’s Undead (Minneapolis: Millbrook Press, 2013)

Paintings of Fate and Black Holes by Paul Laffoley, from The End is Near! Visions of Apocalypse, Millennium, and Utopia 

(Los Angeles: Dilettante Press, 1998)

The power of the atom on display, from Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atomic Bomb: 1939–1949 

(London: Icon, 2009)

Vampire bats, from Johnson’s Natural History (Ann Arbor: W.B. Stickney, 1881)

Sculptures of viruses by USC student Justin Finuliar

Comic book adaptations of The Black Hole (Disney, 1979)

Map of Lake Monsters of America, by Atlas Obscura (2013)

Deepsea fish, from top to bottom: Anglerfish, Fangtooth, and Goblin Shark

Von KleinSmid Center Library for International and Public Affairs

Political Fiends

Maneater from Lord Beaverbrook, Spirit of the Soviet Union (Great Britain: Love & Malcomson, 1942)

Thomas Keenan and Eyal Weizman, Mengele’s Skull The Advent of a Forensic Aesthetics (Berlin: Stenberg Press, 2012)

Gerhard Langemeyer, Bild als Waffe (Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1984)

Micah D. Halpern, THUGS (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007)

Dirk C. Gibson, Legends, Monsters and Serial Murderers? The Real Story Behind Ancient Crime (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2012)

 Harpie Monstre Amphibie vivante, 1784

 The French Bugaboo Frightening the Royal Commanders, 1794 hand colored etching by Isaac Cruikshank


Besieged by Barbarians 

Jon Elliston, Psywar on Cuba The Declassified History of U.S. Anti-Castro Propaganda (Chicago: Ocean Press, 1999) 

Govind B. Mishra, And America Attacked Monster of Terrorism in 21st Century (New Delhi: Akansha Publishing House, 2002)

 Mark Bryant, World War I in Cartoons (London: Grub Street, 2006)

Jim Aulich, Seduction or Instruction? First World War Posters in Britain and Europe (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007)

Socialism Throttling the Country, 1909

Beware of The Serpent, 1929

 Liberators, 1944 by Harald Damsleth, a Norwegian who worked for the SS in occupied Norway.

Atrocities, Massacres, and War Crimes 

Depiction of WWII Internment Camp Survivors in Tom Perlmutter, War Movies (New Jersey: Castle Books, 1974)

 Armenian Genocide in Jonathan Vankin’s The Big Book of Bad (New York: Paradox Press, 1998)

 Joe Sergi, Great Zombies in History (Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2013)

 Robert Lyons, Intimate Enemy Images and Voices of the Rwandan Genocide (New York: Zone Books, 2006)

 Bill Berkeley, The Graves are Not Yet Full (New York: Basic Books, 2001)

 Jennie E. Burnet, Genocide Lives in Us Women, Memory and Silence in Rwanda  (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2012)

 Samuel Brenner, Vietnam War Crimes (Farmington Hills: Thomas Gale, 2006)

Horst Faas, Requiem by the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina (New York: Random House, 1997)

Fe Fi Fo Fum 

Gargantua: The Pilgrims are Eaten in Salad by Gustave Dore in The Grotesque Factor (San Agustin: Museo Picasso Malaga, 2002)

 Richard Godfrey, James Gillray The Art of Caricature (London: Tate Publishing, 2001)

 "The trouble, my friends, with socialism is that it would destroy initiative" Puck, volume 66, January, 1910

 "To begin with, 'I'll paint the town red" by Grant E. Hamilton, The Judge volume 7, January, 1885

 Micah Ian Wright, You Back the Attack! We’ll Bomb Who We Want! Remixed Propaganda (Ontario: Hushion House, 2003)

 Edward Lucie-Smith, The Art of Caricature (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981) 

USC Cinema Library

Film still from Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

Film still from the movie Freaks (1932)

Film still from Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Film still from The Mummy (1932)

Press book for King Kong (1933)

Promotional brochure for Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Promotional brochure for The Wolfman (1941)

Script for The Bride of Frankenstein (1934)

Ian Nathan, Alien Vault (London: Aurum Press, 2011)

Richard Siegel and Jean-Claude Suarès, Alien Creatures (Los Angeles: Reed Books, 1978)

 “Wasp Woman” from Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy-Stripe Nurses (New York: Abrams, 2013)

Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (New York: Universe Books, 1975)

Denis Gifford, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (New York: Hamlyn, 1973)

USC Special Collections

A wide selection of materials from the USC Libraries Special Collections is on view in the Doheny Library Treasure Room

Ulisse Aldrovandi, Monstrorum Historia (Bologna, 1642)

Ulisse Aldrovandi, De Piscibus (Bologna: Nicolas Tebaldini, 1638)

Astounding Science Fiction, vol. 61, no. 3 (May 1958)

George Bishop, The World of Clowns (Los Angeles: Brooke House Publishers, 1976)

John Bullwer, Anthropometamorphosis: Man Transform’d: or The Artificial Changling (London: William Hunt, 1653)

Lewis Carroll, Jabberywocky: A Book of Brillig Dioramas (New York: Abrams, 1996)

Das III Reich in der Karikatur (Prague: Stop-Verlag, 1934)

Demonographia (Seattle: Trident Books, 1999)

Pierre Denys de Montfort, Histoire naturelle (1801)

Gustave Doré, Dante’s Inferno (New York: Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co., 1866)

Max Ernst, Une semaine de bonté (New York: Dover, 1976)

Christian Friedrich von Reuß, Ausführliche und accurate Beschreibung nebst genauer Abbildung einiger vorhin fabelhafter Geschöpfe welche in der heutigen Naturgeschichte berühmter Schriftsteller gänzlich verändert und ins Licht gestellet sind (Leipzig: W. Nauck, 1794)

Isidore Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire, Histoire générale et particulière des anomalies . . . (Paris: J.-B. Baillière, 1832)

Konrad Gesner, Historia Animalium (Zurich, 1551–1587)

Edward Gorey, Gorey Posters (New York: H. N. Abrams, 1979)

Dragon, from the story “The Four Clever Brothers,” in the Brothers Grimm, Grimm’s Fairy Tales (London: Constable & Co., 1909)

Flea, from Robert Hooke, Micrographia Restaurata (London: J. Bowles, 1745)

Homer, His Odysses Translated (London, 1665)

James Landon, Book of Colored Drawings (England, 1790–1791)

Le Sifflet, vol. 27 (July 26, 1872)

Fortunio Liceti, De monstrorum caussis (Padua, 1634)

Malleus Maleficarum (London: Pushkin Press, 1951)

Ambar Past, Portable Mayan altar with hex books in Tzotzil and English, 2007

Pictorial History of the American Circus (1957)

David Rose, Courtroom sketch of Richard Ramirez aka “The Night Stalker,” November 14, 1985

J. R. R. Tolkien, Beowulf (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

Martin Schongauer (Munich: Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, 1991)

Reginald Scot, The Discoverie of Witchcraft

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (London, 1818)

Side Show (New York: Amjon, 1975)

Mark Sloan, Wild, Weird, and Wonderful: The American Circus 1901–1927 (New York: Quantuck Lane Press, 2003)

 “The Divine Insect,” from The Extermination of Evil (1927 facsimile of a 12th century scroll)

Warhafft (Munich: Adam Berg, 1589)

ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries

Those who argue homosexuality has “destructive physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences have long demonized the LGBTQ community. The mid-20th Century medicalization of homosexuality and the salacious nature of the cover art for some pulp fiction, conspired to produce negative imagery and stereotypes, which literally demonized lesbians, transgendered people and gays.  This particular volume is an egregious example of that unfortunate trend, which would now be considered reprehensible

The Demon Dyke (San Diego: Corinth Publications, 1968)

Demon magazines, nos. 1–4 (1984)