English 166

Special Topics: Romantic Science


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Spring 2018 Goldstein, Amanda Jo
Note new time: TTh 2-3:30 Note new location: 300 Wheeler

Book List

Blake, William: Selected Poems; Mee, John: Romanticism and Revolution: A Reader; Shelley, Mary: Frankenstein; Williams, Raymond: Keywords; Wordsworth & Coleridge: Lyrical Ballads

Other Readings and Media

Course Reader:  poetry and prose from Percy Shelley, John Keats, Lord Byron, John Clare, Dorothy Wordsworth, Joana Baillie, Erasmus Darwin, Anna Barbauld, Gilbert White, E.T.A. Hoffman, James Hutton, Joseph Priestley, Thomas Malthus, Joseph Banks, James Cook, Georges Cuvier, Lord Monboddo, Luke Howard, Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, John Locke, and David Hume, along with selected historical and critical resources.

Visual materials will be available through the course website.

Description

Today we use the word “experimental” to designate both the most respected scientific method and the most outlandish works of art. This course on Romantic era literature and science explores a key phase of the hidden interrelation (and rivalry) between literary and empirical experimentation: the decades around 1800, a period of intense political, social, and technological change during which the word “experiment” could also invoke the exhilaration and terror of the French, American, and Haitian Revolutions. Since nowadays being “a romantic” means being passionate, idealistic or sentimental – all apparent opposites to the “scientific” disposition – it may be surprising to learn that the poets and novelists who defined literary Romanticism were intensely engaged in problems of evolutionary biology, neuroscience, chemistry, botany, geology, climatology and voyages of scientific exploration. This class approaches Romantic writing with the understanding that science and literature, subjective and objective knowledge, the humanities and the natural sciences, were not always firmly divided. We will focus, then, on a series of controversies that Romantics tackled through a multiplicity of technical and imaginative forms: controversies about the truth of sensation, the origin of life, the being of machines, the depth of racial difference, the age of the earth, the relations between knowledge and empire. What kinds of knowing do specific kinds of writing enable or obstruct?

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