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Jack The Ripper Through a Wider Lens

By Furrah Qureshi

May 12, 2011

Jack the RipperEnigmatic and haunting, Jack the Ripper is perhaps the most infamous serial killer in history. So many popular books and movies have speculated on his origins and historical implications. So much has been written, yet so little is known. The College of Arts and Sciences and Pennoni Honors College will jointly sponsor: “Jack the Ripper Through a Wider Lens: An Interdisciplinary Conference” on October 28 and 29, 2011. The conference will bypass the all-too common emphasis on the identity, or identities, of Jack the Ripper, instead exploring the philosophical and social aspects of the famous Ripper murders. After all, our infatuation with Jack the Ripper just might say more about us than it does about him.

The day-and-a-half-long conference will take place in the Bossone Research Center. Featured speakers include two Ripper scholars and a renowned forensic psychologist: Drew D. Gray, Martin Fido and Richard Walter. Gray is a senior lecturer in the History of Crime at the University of Northampton in the UK and author of London's Shadows: The Dark Side of the Victorian City. Fido was a research fellow at Balliol College in Oxford and is now a senior lecturer at Boston University. He is the author of The Crimes, Detection and Death of Jack the Ripper and co-author of The Complete Jack the Ripper A to Z and The Official History of Scotland Yard. Walter is an internationally-known criminal profiler and one of the original founders of The Vidoq Society, an organization centered on investigating cold cases.

Since the focus of the conference is on the broad issues connected with the Ripper case, the conference committee is seeking papers on a variety of subjects including but not limited to: the economic and social conditions of women vulnerable to Ripper’s violence in the Victorian era, detective work of the period, Jack the Ripper from a contemporary psychological perspective, and what the film and fictionalized versions of the case say about society. An outline of a proposed paper can be submitted via email to Associate Dean of Pennoni Honors College, Dr. Suzanne E. Rocheleau ( The deadline for submissions is July 1, 2011.

A short film competition is also being held in conjunction with the conference, and winning entries will be screened during the event. Films with a runtime of no more than 10 minutes that have a Jack the Ripper theme can be submitted up until September 16. All submissions should be submitted via DVD to Karin Kelly in the Film & Video Department of Cinema, room 61 in University Crossings.

Registration information, deadlines and travel details for the conference can be found on the conference website.

Distinguished Professor of English, Paula Marantz Cohen, and Professor Fred J. Abbate are organizing the conference. Cohen recently published a novel, What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper. Abbate is teaching an Honors course, “The Jack the Ripper Case and the Logic of Criminal Detection” during the Spring term. Both professors have been able to engage students in a masterful dialogue on Jack the Ripper with respect to both historical and contemporary theories on the Ripper murders.

Of Jack the Ripper, Cohen says “he's a figure of fascination on a variety of levels. The case continues to puzzle and intrigue people because it lends itself to so many sorts of theories. It also offers a window on different facets of Victorian culture.”

The joint efforts of Abbate and Cohen help to prepare the Drexel community for October’s conference.

“One of the topics for our conference is why the heck this case still captures us?” Abbate said.

He attributes the continued fascination with Jack the Ripper to the mystery-narrative idea. In a way, society will always be captivated and repulsed by Jack the Ripper, and the longer the infatuation goes on, the more mysterious and legendary he will become.

“Why the Ripper?” Abbate rhetorically asks, “well, whoever Jack the Ripper was, his reputation is legendary. Both Professor Cohen and I think he's a perfect illustration of the mystery narratives that often totally capture us the way great myths do, that allow us to discuss and debate them as if they were factual history on the one hand and—on the other—stories that offer us the inexplicable and the incomprehensible.”

While many conferences, books, films and articles concentrate on the identity of Jack the Ripper, Cohen and Abbate see the greater social value of the Jack the Ripper murders. The infatuation with the murders raises philosophical questions—not just about the Ripper—but more so about the world’s inability to forget him.

Furrah Qureshi '15 is a B.S./M.S. student working on her degrees in English and Communication concurrently. She was previously the Editor-in-Chief of The Triangle. After graduation, she hopes to attend law school and pursue a career in litigation.