Reading & Composition
Natural History and Literary Form
In this class we will examine early philosophies of nature and natural history from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, especially those that focused attention on the human being as a species and the question of its relationship to the environment, in order to analyze their impact on works of literature. Of particular interest to us will be the notions of "milieu," which originally gained significance as a concept of mechanics in physics and later became appropriated by early biology and sociology, and "habit," which raised questions in early evolutionary theories and now resonates in the sociological concept of "habitus." Boundaries between personal and social identity (questions of type, class, character development) and relations between character and ambiance (physical, social, and historical) will require consideration alongside formal practices of description and narration. At the close of the course we will turn to more contemporary writings of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries to gain perspective on how earlier issues in the discourse on human nature continue to be relevant today.
This course is designed to help students develop critical thinking, writing, and oral expression skills that are applicable beyond the domain of literary studies. Students will learn how to develop interesting analytical arguments by refining their ideas through the drafting and revision of essays. Short writing assignments will also be required in order to help facilitate thinking about the course’s material. Since this is a discussion-based course, a strong emphasis will be placed on active student participation in class.
Primary works will likely include novels by J.W. von Goethe, Honoré Balzac, and Emilia Pardo Bazán; poems by William Blake; and an essay by Jamaica Kinkaid.