76-327A: Literature and Science

The Crystal Palace (Housed Great Exhibition, 1851)

Professor: Michael Rectenwald, Ph.D.

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This course explores the relations of culture, literature, the sciences and technology, focusing in particular on narratives of evolution (and creation) from the late 18th and into the 21st century. Beginning with a brief look at late 18th century texts dealing with questions of perfectibility and evolution, we launch into the 19 th century, reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in the context of the materialism-vitalism debate. We then look at William Paley's classic text of Natural Theology and continue by examining selections from the evolutionary writings of Jean Baptiste Lamarck, Robert Chambers, Charles Darwin, and others. We continue to explore themes of origin and genealogy in fiction by Charles Kingsley, Robert Louis Stevenson, H.G. Wells, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and examine fin de siècle literature of decadence and retrogression. Given our deepened historical framing of these narrative themes, we end with a consideration of the contemporary debates over creationism (or intelligent design) and evolution and the arguments and implications surrounding recent developments in Genetics, Nanotechnology and Robotics (hereafter “GNR”).

76-334/734 LIST OF TEXTS