This course explores the relationship between science, art, and identity as depicted in novels, essays, and short stories written in nineteenth-century America--a time and place when the disciplinary boundaries
separating literature, science, and technology, as well as those separating
differing branches of science (and pseudoscience) had not yet solidified
into their modern form. Course readings will include authors such as Hawthorne,
Melville, Rebecca Harding Davis, Mark Twain, and a few of their now lesser
known contemporaries. We'll examine how these authors depict new scientific
theories and applications and what implications they view science having
on personal, civic, cultural and social identities in the United States.
Questions we will examine include: How did these authors envision the relationship between science, nature and art? How do they depict the impact of scientific theories on individual freedom, on public and private spaces, or on personal or social identity? What is at stake in their various representations of science and why?
- To grapple with big, overarching questions about science and identity which surface in these 19th-century texts but also resonate with issues present in our 21st-century culture. Although we may frequently discuss issues or questions that seem relevant today, our primary focus will be on how these authors, texts, or implied audiences imagine and respond to these issues within their own day and on the individual and cultural perspectives the works reflect.
- To develop the interpretive skills necessary
for critical cultural reading, including posing questions of texts,
closely attending to the language and context of a given work, analyzing
its narrative structure, aesthetic sensibility or viewpoint, responding to others'
(whether scholars in the field or classmates) interpretations, and exploring
connections or disjunctions between texts.
- To engage in the practice of literary analysis, both in classroom discussion and in your writing by forming, testing, and reshaping your informed response to a text.
- To hone your writing skills, with an emphasis on persuasive verbal and written arguments that rely on sufficient and appropriate textual evidence and secondary sources. Class time will be devoted to evaluating the multiple types of secondary sources available (e.g., web or paper, journal article or. monograph, theoretical or historical approach) and their relative usefulness to you for your writing.
- To analyze a literary work in historical context, either by reading it alongside other documents produced in the same time period or by discussing it in light of later debates over its possible meanings or interpretations
- To deepen your understanding of the discipline. Throughout the semester,
we will discuss and practice what it means to "think like" a literary
critic or to "do" literary or cultural studies. During the semester,
you will spend time in the Small Special Collections library for an
archival research project focused on a piece of nineteenth-century fiction,
non-fiction or ephemera related to our course topics.
- To foster a sense of learning in community through class discussions.