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Science and Literature

ENGL 075.401

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This course is cross-listed as ENGL075, HIST117, and HSOC110, and it satisfies SAS distribution requirements in “arts and letters.”

How did the emergence of modern science shape the ways we imagine the future? We will be studying this question by examining how the possibilities opened up by science and technology were reflected in literature and cinema at different periods, looking in particular at how science fiction emerged as a distinctive genre. From space travel to genetic engineering, the sciences have allowed us to re-imagine what it means to be human and what our place in the wider universe might be, but these imaginary futures have always been products of the time and place in which they were made.  We will discuss such themes such as time travel, robots, aliens, and other worlds – and the differences between European and American treatment of these themes – but will focus on utopias (and dystopias), because they often reflect the starkest contrasts between the present and the future.

The course is structured thematically around a series of science fiction novels, short stories and movies. There will be quite a lot of reading, but mostly of very enjoyable novels and wherever possible, short stories and/or extracts from longer novels will be used to illustrate themes.

Monday and Wednesday lectures will set these texts in historical, scientific, and thematic context, using quotes, pictures and movie clips to illustrate the main ideas.  Friday sections will provide the opportunity for in-depth comparative discussion. There will be two research papers (4-5 pp, mid-term and 8­–10 pp, end-of-term) and two shorter comprehension exercises during the semester.

fulfills requirements