We often think of science as offering us access to objective truth, in contrast to the subjective methods of the arts and humanities. Yet scientific research is shaped by human interests, and scientists often rely on literary techniques to communicate their findings. As we compare these two fields, what emerges is not a conflict between stark truths and beautiful lies, but a dialogue in which truth claims are entangled with aesthetic principles.
In this course, we will investigate the ways that science and literature have shaped each other from premodernity to the present day. Although many of our readings could be classified as speculative or science fiction, we will also consider lyric poetry, popular nature writing, and other channels through which scientific knowledge is disseminated. Throughout the term, we will consider questions like: how is science defined and delimited, and what/whom might this definition exclude? How can we use historical literature to contextualize our current understanding of science? How can we recognize and evaluate scientific language, identifying its uses as well as its contributions to misinformation and social inequality?
Readings will include fiction and poetry by writers both contemporary (e.g. Amitav Ghosh, Rebecca Roanhorse, Jeff VanderMeer) and historical (e.g. Marie de France, Johannes Kepler, Hester Pulter). We will study these texts alongside criticism by scholars such as Robin Wall Kimmerer, Bruno Latour, and Anna Tsing. No previous experience with any of this material is required.
This course is a Junior Research Seminar, with assignments throughout the semester that are designed to prepare you for advanced research in literary studies. Your research will culminate in a final scholarly essay (10-15 pages) or creative assignment. Since we will be working across disciplinary divides in this course, creative/critical hybrid projects and journalistic pieces are also very welcome.