Both literary and scientific texts belong to an established historical tradition and constitute canons for general or specialized study. But the study of correspondences and links between science and literature has not been common practice. The rift between science and the humanities, memorably termed the ‘two cultures’ by British novelist and physical chemist C. P. Snow in 1959, has come to be perceived as ever-growing by scientists and non-scientists alike. The Kuhnian concept of scientific revolutions, first posited in 1962 by a scientist trying to teach science to humanities students, ironically led to a further entrenchment of the divide. Yet where scientific narrative and literary narrative can most obviously overlap is in the use of imagination and the evocation of wonder, and recent tendencies in science studies in literature highlight the kinship between the two kinds of writing. This course samples short extracts and anthology pieces from texts by scientists and science writers over six centuries from the European Renaissance onwards in these terms to understand how the study of texts from the two cultures can prove rewarding as literature in both content and genre.
History of science writing: chronology and timeline, major events, ‘the scientific revolution’; Natural philosophy and elite science: philosophy, technology and jargon; Thomas Kuhn: sociology and philosophy of science, asking new questions of old data, paradigm shifts; ‘Science wars’: Social Text and the Sokal Affair, scientific realism and postmodern critique; Literature and science studies: Gillian Beer, George Levine, Ralph O’Connor; Literary science writing: Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Robert Hooke (1635-1703), Voltaire (1694-1778), Charles Darwin (1809-1882), Ronald Ross (1857-1932), Peter Medawar (1915-1987), Richard Dawkins (1941-).
Texts and References:
1.Carey,John ed. 1995. The Faber Book of Science.Faber and Faber. London, UK.
2.Dawkins, Richard ed.2008. The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing.Oxford University Press. Oxford, UK.
3.Leigh,John ed. 2007.Voltaire, Philosophical Letters or Letters Regarding the English Nation.Prudence Steiner trans. Hackett.Indianapolis, US.Esp. ‘On Smallpox Inoculation,’ ‘On Mr Newton’s Optics’.
4.Darwin, Charles. 2009, first published 1890. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Library Collection Series. Cambridge, UK.
5.Sleigh, Charlotte. 2011.Literature and Science.Palgrave Macmillan. Basingstoke, Hants, UK.
6.Kuhn, Thomas. 1962.The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.University of Chicago Press.Chicago, US.