Erika Behrisch

Erika Behrisch
Head, Distance Learning Coordinator
Massey 325
(613) 541-6000 x 6070
(613) 541-6405
Department of English, Culture, and Communication

College Address

Royal Military College of Canada
PO Box 17000, Station Forces
Kingston, Ontario, CANADA
K7K 7B4


Since leaving Fairbanks, Alaska at the age of 12 to pursue an adolescence and early adulthood with my family on and around the shores of British Columbia, my route to Kingston, Ontario has been filled with adventure, including two years on a remote fish farm in the wilds north of Vancouver, a senior high-school year as an exchange student in the small whaling town of Albany, Western Australia, and two years in a dingy apartment at Bloor and Christie Pitts. It's up for grabs which of these experiences was most transformative.

I chose the study of literature as a vocation because I am at heart very nosey. English Literature, so full of opinions, hidden agendas, unintentional revelations and cultural complexity, offered what was in my mind the richest study of culture higher education could afford, and I enjoy my scholarly research, my academic teaching, and my life as a reader immensely.

Erika Behrisch's Personal Website

Main Research Interests

nineteenth-century exploration narratives, naval surgeons, travel writing, literature of science and nationalism, nineteenth-century non-fiction prose, Victorian print culture

Current Research

My current research digs into nineteenth-century naval surgeons’ journals, comparing the stories they tell to the official narratives written by captains and approved by the Admiralty Board. They tell the tales that don’t make the history books: the smell of the lower decks, the effects of quack medicines, the crews’ rowdy onshore adventures, and the heavy toll a life at sea takes on the sailor’s body. For me, these hidden stories are essential to really understanding the culture of nineteenth-century exploration. This project is supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Grant.


Paper Navigators: Discovery, Innovation, and the Victorian Admiralty. Palgrave, forthcoming.

Lady Franklin of Russell Square. (Novel) Stonehouse Publishing, 2018.

As affecting the fate of my absent husband: Selected Letters of Lady Franklin Concerning the Search for the Lost Franklin Expedition, 1848-1860. McGill-Queen's University Press, 2009.

Recent Selected Publications

  • “Never mind the dog: Experimental Subjects in The Island of Dr. Moreau and Heart and Science.” The Wilkie Collins Journal. Vol 15 (forthcoming). The Wilkie Collins Society 27 pp.
  • “Widows’ Men: Officers’ Widows of the Lost Franklin Expedition and the 1854 Admiralty Board.” Journal of Commonwealth and Imperial History. August 2018 Widows’ Men: The Admiralty Board, Precedent, and Pensions for the Widows of the Lost Franklin Expedition 38 pp
  • “‘Cornwall and Kamtschatka’: Domesticating Cornwall through Pedestrian Travel in Wilkie Collins’s Rambles Beyond Railways (1851).” The Wilkie Collins Journal 14 (2017). The Wilkie Collins Society 24 pp.
  • “‘Dyin’ ain’t much of a livin’: The Ethics of Rebellion in The Outlaw Josey Wales.” ESC: English Studies in Canada 42.3-4 (Fall 2016). 65-79.
  • “Northern Regions (1825): A New Template for Imperial Children.” The Lion and the Unicorn 39.3 (2015): 311-330.
  • "'Adapted for Travellers in General': En Route with the British Admiralty's 1849 Manual of Scientific Enquiry." Journeys: The International Journal of Travel and Travel Writing 15.1 (2014).
  • "'One remarkable evening': Redemptive Science in Wilkie Collins's Heart and Science." Journal of Literature and Science 7.1 (2014). Science and Literature
  • "'One of the bright objects that solace us in these regions': Labour, Leisure, and the Arctic Shipboard Periodical, 1820-1852." Victorian Periodicals Review 46.3 (2013).
  • "'In Sum, Evil has Prevailed': The Moral Morass of Arctic Exploration in Jacques Tardi's The Arctic Marauder." Steaming into a Victorian Future: A Steampunk Anthology. Eds Cynthia Miller and Julie Taddeo. Scarecrow Press, 2013.
  • "'A tribute of respect to the dead': Narrative Containment and Focal Substitution in Leopold McClintock's The Voyage of the Fox." Nineteenth-Century Prose 40.1 (2013).

Teaching Philosophy

The study of literature is an elegant - and enjoyable! - method of teaching critical thinking skills. Not only are students exposed to outstanding pieces of writing from different periods of history, but they also learn effective communication - from the writers they encounter as well as from the rigours of critical expression in the classroom. It takes courage to have an opinion, and many students initially hesitate to offer interpretations of what they read for fear it may be "wrong." In each of my courses I make four statements prominent:

  • "Il n'y a pas de hors-texte" (Jacques Derrida)
  • The text is not the author
  • “The truth about stories is that’s all we are” (Thomas King) 

These statements declare with confidence that everything we encounter is open to interpretation, and I discuss them in tandem because they underscore the importance of looking at texts simultaneously as objects, products, responses, formulae, and pieces of a larger cultural puzzle. While the resulting broadness of the interpretive horizon can be at first daunting, rejecting the hegemony of author biography can also be liberating, and I take real pleasure in watching students' critical faculties blossom and flourish in this wide plain of textual interpretation.

Courses Taught

Distance Learning, Dual Delivery, and in the Classroom


  • ENE101/102: Introduction to Literature and University Writing Skills (Fiction / Drama and Poetry)
  • ENE 100/110: Introduction to Literature and University Writing Skills
  • ENE202/203: Cross-Currents of Twentieth-Century Literature (Modernism / Postmodernism)
  • ENE309: Hearts of Oak: Literature and Culture in the Age of Empire
  • ENE312: Nineteenth-Century Crossings -- Post-Revolutionary France and Victorian England (co-taught with Soundouss El Kettani, département de langue française, littérature et culture)
  • ENE371: On the Origins of Scientific Culture: The Rise of Science in the Nineteenth Century
  • ENE403: Gender and Literature
  • ENE472: Ex Libris: Secrets of the Archives
  • ENE474: Science Fiction


  • WS529: Ex Libris: Secrets of the Archives
  • WS663: Voyages of Exploration and Empire: Narratives of the Royal Navy
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