English R1B

Reading and Composition: Machines Made of Words

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Spring 2019 Forbes-Macphail, Imogen
MWF 10-11 233 Dwinelle

Book List

Padua, Sydney: The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage; Stoppard, Tom: Arcadia

Other Readings and Media

Additional materials will be made available online. 


"A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words." — William Carlos Williams
"A book is a machine to think with." — I. A. Richards

In this course, we will explore the relationship between literature, machinery, and automata. We will begin with a unit on close-reading and Romantic poetry, in which we will learn how to take poems apart to discover how they work. In conjunction with this, we will look at 18th- and 19th-century theories concerning the association of ideas and determinism, in particular through metaphors which represent the mind as either a machine or an aeolian harp. The second unit of this course will move forward one generation (literally) to examine early ideas surrounding computing through the work of Byron's daughter, Ada Lovelace, and Charles Babbage, on the Analytical Engine. This unit will focus on historical research using both primary and secondary sources. In the third and final unit of the course, we will continue to move forward into the nineteenth century to investigate the emergence of detective fiction as a genre, particularly through stories in which detection is likened to a computational process (including works by Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle). We will consider the ways in which literary analysis and historical research also involve elements of "detection." This final unit will involve a digital humanities component, in which we will use computer-assisted text analysis to investigate nineteenth-century fiction. 

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