Location: Lea Library, 6th floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
Instructor's office: Special Collections, Van Pelt
Phone: 215 898 7088
Students may find useful several links to sites concerned with the
physics and the development of nuclear weapons.
The instructor has also mounted several readings for this class.
Epigraph: The Newtonian conception of physics, for example, has been completely upset by Einstein, first, and then by the quantum theory. Nor will this be the end. Of one thing only can we be sure: What is today accepted as truth will tomorrow prove to be only amusing.
Many different kinds of stories concern the building, development, and effects of nuclear weapons in 1945. Some claim to be autobiographies or biographies. Others claim to be histories. Still others call themselves fictions. Some seem to be poetry or plays. These stories, and the varied ways in which they construct our understanding of "the" story, are the subject of this course. We will look at how that part of the history of twentieth-century physics conventionally summed up as "the Manhattan Project" has been presented (represented; re-presented) in a variety of verbal and visual media.
The instructor will award a very small prize to the student who first identifies the author and source of the epigraph above. It comes from a popular novel by an extremely well-known American writer published in the late 1980s.
This course meets on Wednesdays from 5:30 to 8:10 P.M. in the Lea Library, on the sixth floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. We may occasionally reschedule or relocate in order to accommodate the showing of movies or tapes.
The instructor's office is in the Department of Special Collections, also on the sixth floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. You can reach him by telephone (215 898 7088) or in person at that location. Call before showing up. You can communicate with him as well by e-mail.
Students will be asked to prepare several responses to readings during the course. Their exact number will depend on the number of students in the class. Note that the syllabus calls for a brief response from every member of the class due at the third class meeting. The syllabus for other weeks suggests a variety of response topics. Responses will not be accepted after the class which discusses the materials they discuss. Since classroom discussion will depend on them, the instructor promises to be dramatically unamused, indeed unpleasantly so, should you happen to miss a scheduled response for reasons short of death. Yours. Responses are NOT graded, although they must be turned in.
In addition, every member of the class must write and submit by May 10th a FINAL PAPER of some 15-20 pages in length. (There is no final examination. The instructor reserves the right to give unannounced quizzes during the semester -- and he will do so if he gets the impression that people are not doing the reading.) Your final essay should consider some materials not otherwise read in this class and use primary materials of some sort in doing so. DO NOT CHOOSE A TOPIC FOR OR WRITE THIS PAPER WITHOUT FIRST DISCUSSING IT WITH THE INSTRUCTOR. Please follow MLA or Chicago format rules in the preparation of this paper. As already noted in a different connection, death (preferably yours) is the only acceptable excuse for lateness. "Radiation sickness" is not an acceptable excuse.
In general, the instructor appreciates good writing. He will look with disfavor upon essays, whether brief responses or full-fig final papers, that are poorly written. Sloppy writing normally means sloppy thinking.
This class will work through discussion rather than lectures. Your attendance will make a difference in its success -- and your attendance and participation in your grade. Ground rules: talk; interrupt; open your mouths. Be polite; do not let politeness get in the way of making your points. NOTE: If you can get an early start on Mosley's Hopeful Monsters, you will be glad you did so.
NOTE: Some material will be distributed in photocopy ("bulkpack"). Books to be purchased are available at the Pennsylvania Book Center, at the corner of 34th and Sansom Streets.
Raymond Briggs, When the Wind Blows (Schocken pb) --
Friedrich Durrenmatt, The Physicists (Grove pb)
Richard P. Feynman, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" Adventures of a Curious Character (Bantam Classics Spectra pb)
Michael Frayn, Copenhagen (Methuen pb) -- bulkpack
John Hersey, Hiroshima, rev. ed. 1986 (Bantam pb)
Masuji Ibuse, Black Rain (Bantam or Kodansha pb)
Russell McCormmach, Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist (Harvard pb)
Richard H. Minear, ed., Hiroshima: Three Witnesses (Princeton pb)
Nicholas Mosley, Hopeful Monsters (Vintage pb) -- out-of-print; we may have to find other means of obtaining copies of this title
Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Touchstone pb)
C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures (Cambridge Canto pb)
Otto Frisch, What Little I Remember (Cambridge Canto pb)
George Gamow, Mr. Tompkins in Paperback (Cambridge Canto)
James Gleick, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (Vintage pb)
Daniel J. Kevles, The Physicists (Harvard pb)
Martin Cruz Smith, Stallion Gate (Ballantine pb)
The instructor will distribute separately a list of any books he places on reserve for this class in the Rosengarten Reserve Room (Van Pelt Library, basement level).
Response topic: This is a writing assignment -- ungraded, as you will recall -- for everyone in the class (2-3 pages in length):
-- What is the effect of Hersey's tone on the reader of his essay? It might help you to compare the effect of Fussell's very different tone as you try to gauge how a writer's tone affects the ways in which readers approach texts of these kinds.
Response topic: Compare and contrast the treatments of "the Hiroshima experience" [sic!] provided by Hersey, Ibuse, and any one of the writers included in Minear.
Response topic: This is a play not only about physicists and moral responsibility but also about espionage. Are these topics related?
Response topic:You've read selections from a few of the many memoirs and descriptions written by and about the people engaged in building the first nuclear weapons. Recognizing the difficulties of this question (the instructor hopes you will think it worthwhile to think about these difficulties "out loud" while also trying to answer the question), some of which are a function of the limited size of the sample alone, can you begin to characterize these people in any "generalizable" ways at all? Whether your answer is "yes, and in this or these specific way(s)" or "no," why do you come up with the answer you come up with? More difficult still, what impression(s) of these people and this project do you come away from these memoirs with?
Response topics:Do you read him as "Oppenheimer heroicus"? Why? -- or why not?
Response topic: Is McCormmach writing as "a historian of science" or "a novelist" in this book? What might such a distinction mean? In any event, why would anyone care about the world of an "unreconstructed" classical physicist in the second decade of the twentieth century?
NOTE: By now, you should at least have begun to read the LONG novel by Nicholas Mosley, Hopeful Monsters. You will be sorry if you do not start it sooner rather than later.Readings: Alan J. Friedman and Carol C. Donley, Einstein as Myth and Muse (Cambridge), chaps. 1, 4, and 6 minimally -- BULKPACK
Response topics: How does "Einstein" function in Williams? or Macleish? or Gitlin?
Response topics: Snow or Leavis? (E.g., "Snow not only hasn't in him the beginnings of a novelist, he is utterly without a glimmer of what creative literature is, or why it matters." -- F. R. Leavis. Comment.)
Or, instead, what historical situation did Snow address, and out of what intellectual context? In what sense do these factors also affect a reader's response to The New Men?
Response topics: NOTE: no response topics have been assigned for this week. Here are some suggestions for ways to think about this long and complicated novel. See also David N. Menton's "The Hopeful Monsters of Evolution" (St. Louis MetroVoice, June 1994, Vol. 4, No. 6).
Response topic: While he cannot be blamed for the sins of his ancestors, nonetheless the author has a curious family relationship to some of the worst excesses of the World War II era. Do you see any signs that this relationship influences the depiction he provides of people engaged in the Manhattan Project in this novel?
Response topics: Reading McMahon's novel, believe it or not, is what started the instructor gathering materials in various literary, non-literary, and sub-literary forms for a a course on this topic. Is the book worth his interest, or is it merely melodrama?
If McMahon's novel is what got the instructor started on this topic, Frayn's play is what the University assigned to its incoming first-year students before their arrival in September of 1999. Was it right to do so? What issues does Frayn summarize here? Believably? Convincingly? And with anything like a "summary" effect for our purposes?
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