English R1B

Reading and Composition: Literary and Scientific Knowledge

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
14 Spring 2019 Barbour, Andrew John
MW 5-6:30 262 Dwinelle

Book List

Butler, Samuel: Erewhon; Darwin, Charles: On the Origin of Species; La Mettrie: Machine Man and Other Writings; Lucretius: The Nature of Things; Robinson, Kim Stanley: Aurora; Shiel, M.P.: The Purple Cloud


How can literature and science advance our knowledge of the material world? Materialism has often been a point of confluence between literature and science, even the core premise for any relation between literary and scientific inquiry. This course examines the core tropes of materialist epistemology between science and literature, investigating the production of scientific and literary knowledge from the Enlightenment to the present. How might we understand literature and science as modes of material inquiry? To what extent do literary and scientific knowledge converge and depart? How do scientific and literary inquiry expand our insights into the physical world, and what are the limits of scientific and literary thought? How might materialist epistemology in literature and science challenge human scales, aesthetic categories, and patterns of thought by situating the human species within larger earth systems, planetary scales, and physical processes?

We’ll trace the historical trajectory of materialist literature from the scientific revolution and the enlightenment to the present that emerges alongside scientific disciplines, from the life sciences, thermodynamics, evolutionary theory, ecology, and quantum physics. Along the way, we'll ask how materialist epistemology in science and literature might provide insight into questions of form, scale, environment, history, milieu, technology, energy, and climate. Readings include Bacon, Diderot, La Mettrie, Lucretius, Wordsworth, Mary Shelley, Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin, H.G. Wells, and Liu Cixin. This is an R1B course, the second course in a two-semester R&C sequence. Over the course of the semester, you'll compose several papers of increasing length designed to develop your ability to conduct your own innovative research.

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