Honors Seminars Spring 2019

Honors offerings for Spring 2019

Ecological Science Fiction

ENGL402 - Dr. Amy Clukey

Science fiction has long been concerned with climatological, geographic, biological, and ecological extremes, so it’s no surprise that it has taken up the environmental and social crises posed by climate change. In this course, we will examine science fiction literary and cinematic texts that explore the ethics of terraforming barren planets; traverse the existential horrors and frigid terrains of Earth’s polar regions; wade through expanding equatorial jungles; portray new contagions that decimate cities as much as bodies; imagine alien invasions of Earthly habitats and Earthling bodies; battle intelligent apes that can talk and make war; and envision human men who devolve into alligators or mutants or other “swamp things.”

The course will also draw on theoretical readings on related contemporary topics, such as the Anthropocene, climate change, petrochemical culture, mass extinction, human-alien-animal hybridity, non-human alterity, environmental racism, and ecofeminism. Potential readings include works by Donna Haraway, Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, Samuel Delany, J.G. Ballard, Kim Stanley Robinson, Jeff Vandermeer, H.G. Wells, among others.

Alchemy and the Occult in the Middle Ages

ENGL402 - Dr. Andrew Rabin

During the Middle Ages, the search for the ‘Philosopher’s Stone’—a magical substance that could transform base substances into gold—captured the imagination of scientists and poets, theologians and heretics, scholars and laypeople alike. Tempted by the lure of a magical substance that would bring power, fame, love, and wealth, would-be alchemists from all walks of life set up laboratories, pored over ancient texts, and practiced arcane rituals, all the while concealing their pursuit from Church authorities who viewed such practices as the work of the devil. Although the Philosopher’s Stone remained elusive, the search had a profound impact on Western culture: it inspired such authors as Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson; it produced some of the earliest translations of Islamic scientific and medical texts for Christian readers; and it led to the development of methods of experimentation that shaped the modern fields of Chemistry, Physics, and Biology.

In this course, we will trace the history of medieval magical and alchemical practices from their late Classical beginnings through their proliferation in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Our readings will range from alchemical manuals passed in secret from hand to hand by practitioners of the “Mysterious Science” to literary texts concerning figures such as Simon Magus and Dr. Faustus.  And as we follow their search for the Philosopher’s Stone, who knows? Perhaps we might even succeed where others have failed…