ENGL468 - Selected Topics in Film Studies: Images of Evolution
General - Oliver Gaycken

When we think of evolution, passages from The Origin of Species are not likely to spring to mind. More likely certain images—a fish with legs crawling out of the water; a procession of hominoids with homo sapiens leading the way—are the most widespread form in which evolutionary ideas circulate. This course will investigate evolution’s visual dimension in an effort to come to terms with how this knowledge that was fundamental in shaping modernity circulated.
We will begin with an introduction to the historical core of evolutionary thought through selected readings from the work of Darwin and his contemporaries, which will serve as the basis for our investigation of evolution’s visual arguments. We will then look at how evolutionary ideas were registered in a variety of cultural settings: how literature adapted evolution in works by Emile Zola, Jack London, and H. G. Wells; how the cinema shaped and transmitted evolutionary knowledge, both in terms of how moving images figured in the work of scientists as well as how the idea of adaptation itself was adapted by cinema to tell a variety of stories, ranging from satires in the era of early cinema to adaptations of H. G. Wells stories to popular-science films about evolution produced in the wake of the Scopes trial. The course will combine insights and approaches from literary studies, cinema studies, and the history of science.


One English course in literature and one college-level film course, or permission of the department