ENGL278T - Literature of Science and Technology

“Human Beings, Being Human” What does it mean to be human?  In particular, what does it mean to be human in an age of ever-increasing technologies, especially those that augment our bodies and minds?  Do our ethics necessarily match our technological skill?  How have writers asked or responded to such questions about the benefits and problems that accompany scientific and technological advancements? In this course, we will examine science and technology through the lens of English and American literature. We will begin the semester by reading excerpts from texts by early natural and experimental philosophers of the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment and discuss how they perceived and celebrated the promise of natural philosophy.  We will explore some of their founding principles and examine their underlying assumptions as well as their cultural and political exigencies. We will examine how literary works through subsequent centuries represent the ethics of science and technology and survey their representations of not only the beneficial developments science has offered Western society, but also the heavy toll industrialization and the machinery of war take on citizens, soldiers, and scientists alike.  By the end of this course, students will have thoughtfully considered the literary, historical, and cultural contexts surrounding burgeoning scientific communities in Britain and the United States, and we will have contemplated what these texts suggest it means to be human, and humane, in a technological age. Possible texts include: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, extracts from Charles Darwin’s major works, Huxley’s Brave New World, Frayn’s Copenhagen, Wells’s The Time Machine, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Octavia Butler’s Dawn.  We may also briefly discuss how popular film and television engage these questions and view selected scenes from the film Blade Runner and SyFy channel’s Battlestar Galactica.