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Science, Literature, & Popular Culture

This senior seminar touches on many intersections of science and literature while focusing on the stories we tell about human biology. What can fictional and nonfictional narratives tell us about the impact of biotechnology? How is genomic science changing conceptions of personhood and the relative influence of inheritance and environment? Conversely, how are new forms of bodily knowledge transforming the very structures of our stories? In pursuing answers to these questions and others, this course lays a groundwork with several weeks spent examining twentieth-century American attitudes toward science and medicine (partially via Sinclair Lewis) and digesting the basics of contemporary synthetic biology. Soon we turn to some of the most prescient and revealing work of twenty-first-century literature and film. Written from the UK and Canada, Zadie Smith’s and Margaret Atwood’s feminist portraits of genomically-engineered life are in turns amusing, disturbing, and insightful, while American Richard Powers’s 2009 novel represents perhaps the most extensively scientifically informed and literarily complex genomic fiction to date.

Everett Hamner

PDF: Syllabus.Senior-Seminar.011314.pdf

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