Reinventing Species, Sex, and Race

Although species, sex, and race have been key categories for classifying living beings, they are highly problematic terms. Their boundaries and meanings have been continually contested and reinvented both across and within historical periods. This course investigates constructions of biological difference—and the political uses they are made to serve—through case studies of literature contextualized with disparate moments in the history of the life sciences, such as comparative anatomy (17th century), taxonomy (18th century), evolutionary biology (late 19th century), and sociobiology (late 20th century). We will attend especially to ways in which literature employs biological categories while also pressing their limits, propelling readers toward re-imagining living beings and their interrelationships. Featured literary texts may include Margaret Cavendish’s Blazing World, H. G. Wells’s Time Machine, Octavia Butler’s Dawn, and E. O. Wilson’s Anthill. Prerequisites: English 200 and two other literature classes.

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