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BA History and French / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Frankenstein to the Matrix

Unit code HSTM20301
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (L5)
Available as a free choice unit? Yes

Overview

Do scientists play God? Is it possible to understand an alien? Will machines rise up and enslave us? Does the rapid pace of scientific and technological change point towards a future paradise – or a hell on Earth? Or just to a different world that seems equally “normal”?

These are questions which authors and film-makers have long explored through fiction, for a wide variety of reasons: to make money by providing popular entertainment; to explore philosophical questions about the nature of humanity, technology or civilisation; to promote possible future projects in real life, or to warn of emerging dangers; to comment on the politics, social issues and cultural assumptions of their own times.

This course uses science fiction literature and film from the nineteenth century to the present day to explore the changing place of science in the cultural imagination. We ask how science fiction has revealed – and sometimes changed – public dreams and anxieties around technology, the power of science, the future of our earth, and what it means to be human.

 

Aims

To explore through science fiction literature and film the cultural responses to science and technology. This course takes a selection of classic texts and films from the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries to explore the popular imagining of science and technology over this period.

This unit is also available as a 20 credit version (HSTM20801).

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, you will be able

  • to analyse science fiction as a genre
  • to examine the historical development of approaches to science, technology and medicine in literature and film
  • to understand science fiction's role in shaping the cultural meanings of science, technology and medicine
  • to understand how scientific images and knowledge are constructed, interpreted, and transformed for and by science fiction.

20 credit unit only:

  • to find and research a relevant topic in depth
  • to find and assess critically primary and secondary sources;
  • to write, with full scholarly apparatus, a report on the topic

 

Syllabus

The course will include weekly classes on the following topics:

 

  • From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the birth of film
  • Early professional scientists and future world visions
  • British dystopias: sci-fi and national anxiety
  • Nuclear fear and the sci-fi apocalypse
  • The rise of the robots: one hundred years of machines taking over
  • Cyberpunk, virtual worlds and data dreams
  • Bodies and medicine
  • Reimagining gender and sexuality
  • Decolonising science fiction
  • Environment and natural disasters

 

Seminar Content - Students will explore their primary reading and viewing in the light of the theoretical and historical content of the lectures.

 

Teaching and learning methods

The course is delivered online through a series of activities around each weekly theme. These will include reading and viewing the books and films discussed in the course, as well as various responses to them; watching short study videos made by the teaching staff; discussing your responses to the course material with other students through online discussion boards; and independent investigation of a wider range of online material with guidance from the staff. There will also be opportunities for live online discussion, but you don’t need to commit to being available at a fixed regular time during the week. Teaching staff will offer regular opportunities for one-to-one discussion by video call.

 

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%

Source Analysis

Feedback methods

Students may ask questions at any time during lectures and seminars. Teaching staff will answer specific queries by email and during office hours, and will provide contact details in the course handbook or at lectures. All submitted coursework will be returned with annotations and an assessment sheet explaining the mark awarded.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 78

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
James Sumner Unit coordinator
Harriet Palfreyman Unit coordinator

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