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First-Year Interdisciplinary Seminar: Science and Literature

Semester and Year FA 2016
Course Number FIRST-UG85
Section 001
Instructor Anne DeWitt
Days TR
Time 9:30 AM - 10:45 AM
Units 4
Level U


Open to Gallatin first-year students only.


In a 1959 lecture titled “The Two Cultures,” C. P. Snow famously declared, “the intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups,” with “literary intellectuals at one pole—at the other scientists.” Snow asserted that the two are separated by “a gulf of mutual incomprehension,” even “hostility and dislike.” Snow’s view of a fundamental antagonism between science and literature has its roots in the nineteenth-century; his concept of “two cultures” remains influential today. But was he right? This course addresses that question, seeking to deepen our understanding of the relationship between science and literature. Our readings will pair literary and scientific texts: we may consider Thomas Pynchon’s fiction and the laws of thermodynamics; Michael Frayn's play  Copenhagen  and quantum physics; Amitav Ghosh's novel  The Calcutta Chromosome  and sociological theories of scientific knowledge. The class is a discussion-based seminar; assignments will include short response papers, brief contributions to a class blog, formal essays, and opportunities for students to create their own literary or artistic responses to science.


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Course Type

First-Year Program: Interdisciplinary Seminars (FIRST-UG)