English 24

Freshman Seminar: Monsters and Robots: Boundaries of the Human

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Fall 2021 Christ, Carol T.
Monday 2-3 225 Dwinelle

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From the time of its publication, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has taken on almost mythical status.   The story of a scientist who creates life and then cannot deal with the ethical consequences of his act has resonated deeply for centuries.  The novel poses profound questions: Is the creature fully human?  What rights does he have?  What responsibilities does Frankenstein have toward him?  Mary Shelley was inspired in part by dramatic advances in nineteenth-century science.  Theories of evolution, discoveries in the fossil record, advances in electrochemistry, new theories of mind all challenged the idea that humans are special, unique, separate in their nature from other living beings.  Popular fiction explores these ideas through conceptions of the monstrous and their kinship to humankind.  In our own century, advances in robotics and artificial intelligence have raised similar questions and anxieties. They’ve had a similar impact on fiction, as writers imagine robots with human capacities and claims.  In this seminar, we will read a number of nineteenth century texts, beginning with Frankenstein, that reflect on the boundaries of the human.  We will then read several works of contemporary fiction that ask provocative questions about the lives and the rights of humanoid robots.  We will also view several films.

Carol Christ is a professor of English, specializing in Victorian literature, and the chancellor of the Berkeley campus.


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