English | American Literature 1800-1900
L653 | 22074 | Irmscher

L653  22074  IRMSCHER (#4)
American Literature 1800-1900

2:30p – 3:45p TR


Emerson, in his essay on “The Poet” (1844), emphatically declared
that there was essentially no difference between the way poets and
writers in other fields:  “The imagination that intoxicates the
poet  is not inactive in other men.”  Emerson’s insight is
characteristic of a period that was not as worried about the
dividing lines between disciplines and creative activities as we are
today.   This course is intended to familiarize students with an
interest in the close relationships between literature and science
in the nineteenth century with a broad array of texts by both
British and American writers.

Nineteenth-century scientists would find eloquence in literature;
nineteenth-century writers would borrow authority from science.
They shared metaphors, methods, and goals.   The focus of our
readings will be on the concepts of species and speciation, though
we will also risk a look at other fields of scientific and literary
inquiry. We will ask ourselves when scientific writing becomes
distinguishable as such from other forms of literary activity and
what this means for literature.   And we will investigate ways in
which scientists and writers help underwrite, or critique, dominant
political ideologies (as in the emergence of racial “science”).  In
other words, we will ask ourselves what has happened when Melville,
in Moby-Dick, though he certainly knew better, has his narrator
Ishmael asserts, proudly, that the whale is a fish.  Authors to be
read will include Elizabeth Agassiz, John James Audubon, Charles
Darwin, Asa Gray, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, and Henry David
Thoreau.  The basis for our readings will Laura Otis’s anthology,
Science and Literature in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford World’s
Classics), as well as a number of book-length texts, among them
certainly Darwin’s The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man,
Audubon’s Writings and Drawings, Poe’s Eureka, Lewis Carroll’s Alice
in Wonderland, Huxley’s  Man’s Place in Nature , and Elizabeth
Agassiz’s Journey in Brazil.  Requirements will include a teaching
presentation (which will also require students to design a
syllabus), response papers, and a final 15-page paper.  I am also
hoping that members of the class will be interested in planning one
or two panels (featuring work done in the seminar) and other
activities for the 2011 conference of the Association of the Study
of Literature and Science (ASLE) in Bloomington, for which the
instructor is acting as the local  host.   The theme of the
conference is “Species, Space, and the Imagination of the Global.”