English 165

Special Topics: Representing Non-Human Life in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Britain

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
4 Spring 2016 Picciotto, Joanna M
TTh 12:30-2 Note new location: 205 Dwinelle


We will explore techniques developed by scientists, theologians, and poets to represent other life forms. Contexts we’ll investigate include encounters with new-world flora and fauna, the invention of the microscope and the discovery of the cell, and contemporary debates over plant reproduction and the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Alongside questions related to medium and genre, we’ll consider when the representation of other creatures becomes representation in an almost political sense, casting the animal as a voiceless subject on whose behalf, and in whose place, the author speaks. We will also track how new approaches to the physical investigation of animals and plants affected their traditional status as natural symbols (of various vices and virtues, for example). Finally, we will consider the special challenges and opportunities posed by representing creatures that continued to elude empirical study, such as angels.

There will be semi-regular quizzes on the reading, two short papers, and a final exam.

All readings will be made available on the course site; students may also purchase them in the form of a course reader.

Sample Texts: Anna Laetitia Barbauld, “The Mouse’s Petition”; Erasmus Darwin, The Loves of the Plants; Henry Power, Experimental Philosophy; Henry Vaughan, Silex Scintillans

This course is open to English majors only.

This section of English 165 satisfies the pre-1800 requirement for the English major.


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