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Regular version of the site
Master 2019/2020

Science and English Literature

Category 'Best Course for Broadening Horizons and Diversity of Knowledge and Skills'
Category 'Best Course for New Knowledge and Skills'
Type: Elective course (Russian and Comparative Literature)
Area of studies: Philology
When: 1 year, 1, 2 module
Mode of studies: distance learning
Instructors: Mark Robert Taylor
Master’s programme: Русская литература и компаративистика
Language: English
ECTS credits: 4

Course Syllabus


This course explores relationships between literature and scientific thought from the nineteenth century onwards. Connections between the two fields are multiple and nuanced: writers of literature aiming for new models for representing the world have routinely engaged with scientific theories, while scientists have also leaned upon metaphor and other literary rhetoric in explaining their ideas. The course will examine a range of texts spanning literary genres which illustrate these connections.
Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives

  • The objectives of this course are: • To present texts exemplar of the interaction between literature and science • To outline key approaches to analysing the engagement of literary texts with scientific theory • To develop an appreciation of the two-way relationship between the fields of literature and science
Expected Learning Outcomes

Expected Learning Outcomes

  • Students will: • Recognize major points of intersection between scientific theory and works of literature across a range of genres • Be able to employ scientific theory as a tool for analysing literature • Recognize the role of narrative form in moulding scientific thought and discourse
Course Contents

Course Contents

  • Science and Human Nature
    This section will introduce the field of Literature and Science by looking at a seminal example of literature engaged with science – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Drawing upon the then current ideas of Galvanism (using electricity to stimulate life), Frankenstein interrogates the ways in which science estranges humanity from nature, and the very question of what it means to be human. Primary Text: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)
  • Literary Form and Scientific Texts
    Not only does scientific thought affect literature – literary form also affects scientific thought. In these weeks, we will reflect upon the reciprocity of this relationship, considering as an example how the argument of Darwin’s Origin of Species is intertwined with its narrative techniques. Primary Text: Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species (1859)
  • Forensic Science and Detective Fiction
    This section will focus upon detective fiction. The genre is heavily invested in scientifically-derived techniques (fingerprinting, the autopsy, DNA sampling, and so on). The purpose of these is typically to establish an identity, be it of victim or perpetrator. We will discuss how this scientific construction of identity interrelates with character as a literary concept. Primary Text: Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  • Technological Dependency
    This section will address the need we have for technology, and its need for us. In E.M. Forster’s short story ‘The Machine Stops,’ a machine serves all vital functions for humanity, but suddenly stops. The story presciently imagines technologies similar to instant messaging, tablet computers, and the internet. Are its predictions regarding technological dependence also prescient? Primary Text: E.M. Forster, ‘The Machine Stops’ (1909)
  • Inhuman Scale
    Across the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, advances in geology and astronomy conspired to reveal that the Earth was much older than previously thought, and the cosmos much vaster. These weeks will consider how literature has dealt with the human implications of inhuman scale, focusing upon a novel with a two-billion-year timespan, Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon. Primary Text: Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men (1930)
  • The Conscience of Science
    This section will address literature’s approach to the relationship between scientific rationalism and religious faith. Aldous Huxley’s Island is a “utopian phantasy,” in which a fictional kingdom, Pala, blends East Asian religious philosophy with Western scientific ideas. How does the balance between the rational and spiritual function in the novel, if indeed it does? Primary Text: Aldous Huxley, Island (1962)
  • Genetics and Bio-Catastrophe
    This section will address literature of biological catastrophe, focusing upon Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake as an example. Humanity’s drive to alter nature for its own purposes, witnessed also in Frankenstein, may also have wider unintended consequences. How do we prevent technology designed for good from having disastrous results? Primary text: Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (2003)
Assessment Elements

Assessment Elements

  • non-blocking активность на семинарах
  • non-blocking домашнее задание (подготовка презентации)
Interim Assessment

Interim Assessment

  • Interim assessment (2 module)
    0.3 * активность на семинарах + 0.7 * домашнее задание (подготовка презентации)


Recommended Core Bibliography

  • Arthur Conan Doyle. (2019). Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Collection (All the Novels and Stories in One Volume). [N.p.]: The Classics. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=2145419
  • Atwood, M., & 3M Company. (2004). Oryx and Crake. [S.l.]: Anchor. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=738025
  • Charles Darwin. (2018). On the Origin of Species. [N.p.]: Alma Books. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=2112759
  • E. M. Forster. (2015). The Machine Stops. [N.p.]: Start Classics. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=959689
  • Francesco Nieddu. (2019). Symbiosis and telepathy as biological basis of utopia in Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men. Between, (17). https://doi.org/10.13125/2039-6597/3618
  • Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future. (2013). Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.EA39B1F0
  • Rogers, J. (2014). Unified Fields : Science and Literary Form. Montreal & Kingston: MQUP. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=937787

Recommended Additional Bibliography

  • Boyarkina Iren. (2019). The destiny of life and mind in the universe in the works by Arthur Clarke and Olaf Stapledon. Zbornik Radova Filozofskog Fakulteta u Prištini, (3), 113. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsdoj&AN=edsdoj.189ccea5144a44c0afb29b7fde50ff2a
  • Caporaletti, S. (1997). Science as Nightmare: “The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster. Utopian Studies, 8(2), 32. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=asn&AN=4796375
  • Ellen Burton Harrington. (2017). Fan phenomena: Sherlock Holmes, edited by Tom Ue and Jonathan Cranfield [book review]. Transformative Works and Cultures. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2017.0914
  • Heller, T. (2019). Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon. Salem Press Encyclopedia of Literature. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=ers&AN=119621999
  • Key Words. (n.d.). The Fatal Garment of Technology a Critical Analysis of E.M Forester’s ‘The Machine Stops.’ Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.F95DACAB
  • Mureşan, O. (2014). Where East Meets West in Harmony: an Interdisciplinary Approach to Aldous Huxley’s Island. Philologica Jassyensia, 10, 349–356. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=asn&AN=116280057
  • Pordzik, R. (2010). Closet Fantasies and the Future of Desire in E. M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops.” English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, 53(1), 54–74. https://doi.org/10.2487/elt.53.1(2010)0052
  • Ruston, S. (1999). P.B. Shelley and the science of life. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsndl&AN=edsndl.oai.union.ndltd.org.bl.uk.oai.ethos.bl.uk.366974
  • Sanderson, J. (2013). Pigoons, Rakunks and Crakers: Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and Genetically Engineered Animals in a (Latourian) Hybrid World. Law & Humanities, 7(2), 218–240. https://doi.org/10.5235/17521483.7.2.218
  • Steiner, P. (2017). Digital Humanities and Russian Formalism: Darwinism and Anti-Darwinism in Literary History. Vestnik Sankt-Peterburgskogo Universiteta, Seriia 6: Filosofia, Kulturologia, Politologia, Mezdunarodnye Otnosenia, 33(2), 217–223. https://doi.org/10.21638/11701/spbu17.2017.209
  • Symons, A. (2015). Aldous Huxley’s Hands : His Quest for Perception and the Origin and Return of Psychedelic Science. Amherst, New York: Prometheus. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=967300