BA History and Arabic

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
In Frankenstein's Footsteps: Science Fiction in Literature and Film.

Course unit fact file
Unit code HSTM20801
Credit rating 20
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


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.



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 10 credit version (HSTM20301).

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



The exact course content may vary, depending on staff availability and recent developments in the field, but a typical weekly schedule runs as follows:

  • Frankenstein and beyond: the nineteenth-century origins of science fiction
  • Scientific romance and professional science around 1900
  • Nuclear fear: hell-bombs and last survivors
  • Bodies and medicine
  • National anxiety: the case of Britain
  • From robots to replicants
  • Virtual worlds and cyberpunk
  • Reimagining gender and sexuality
  • Decolonising science fiction
  • Environment and natural disasters


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.

The 20-credit version of the course has all the teaching of the 10-credit version plus extra one-to-one guidance around the 3000-word project, which students devise themselves under supervision, and which should take up half the time allocation for this course.


Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 25%
Written assignment (inc essay) 25%
Project output (not diss/n) 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
Project supervision 8
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
James Sumner Unit coordinator

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