Science and Literature: A Cultural History of Science Fiction

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Course Number: 
HIST 117 910
Instructor: 

RIDER, ALEXIS C

Crosslistings: 
HIST117910
HSOC110910
Course Description: 

Societies have long attempted to imagine the future. Stars communicated portends, plagues relayed messages, births or deaths foretold events. But over the past 200-odd years, the shape of things to come has been explicitly bound to that amorphous beast, ‘Science.’ What humans can use the sciences to do—whether dystopian or utopian—has been the central mythology of modernity, told vividly through what we call ‘science fiction.’ But where does science stop, and fiction begin? This interdisciplinary course argues that both science and science fiction ask—and attempt to answer—the same fundamental questions. What is ‘nature’? What is ‘culture’? How do we define the ‘human’? What counts as life and death? What is it that makes a world, and where are we in it? By exploring works that draw on biology, ecology, genetics, physics, and robotics and through tales of cellular modification, unruly plants, non-capitalist or non-patriarchal societies, time-space breaches, and robot-poets, we explore how, as Thomas Huxley argued in 1860, “Science and literature are not two things, but two sides of one thing.”  

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