ENGL289B - The Rites of Discovery: Science, Law, and Literature 1492-1992

This is a course not about the history of scientific discoveries but rather about the history of the concept of ‘discovery’, which originally meant simply to “uncover” or “make manifest” something but that has come to assume, in modern times, a more narrow meaning in that the object of discovery must be new or previously unknown. The evolution of a modern concept of discovery is a story that belongs in part to the history of science, but in this course we will place this evolution also in the legal context of the history of European colonialism and cultural encounter with Native peoples in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. We will trace the history of this idea from the sixteenth-century debate about the European ‘rights of discovery’ to the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s landfall in the New World in 1992 by exploring primary and secondary sources relating to international law, science, and literature. Writers whom we will study include Christopher Columbus, Bartolomé de las Casas, Thomas More, Michel de Montaigne, Francis Bacon, William Shakespeare, Aphra Behn, Alexander von Humboldt, and Gabriel García Márquez. Assignments include two 5-page papers, a weekly reading journal entry of 500 words, short response exercises, and a final exam, as well as participation in discussion sections.