Skip to main content

Unit information: Literature and Science: Newton to Darwin in 2016/17

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Literature and Science: Newton to Darwin
Unit code ENGL20054
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Rosalind Powell
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed an abundance of exciting scientific discoveries from the rise of experimental science early in the period to the later understanding of electricity and evolution. Writers such as Johnson, Shelley and Tennyson responded to and were influenced by these ideas and challenges.

In this period science was consumed, critiqued, and celebrated by the ordinary reader in literary forms. This unit will consider modes of experimentation and creativity, literary and scientific celebrity, debates about old and new knowledge from Pope to Keats, the treatment of science in a Christian context from creation to Darwinian evolution, the role of the imagination, and the treatment of scientific publications as texts that influenced and were influenced by literature.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have:

(1) demonstrated a detailed knowledge and critical understanding of literary texts that engage with scientific and philosophical ideas;

(2) demonstrated an understanding of major critical approaches to the primary texts;

(3) engaged directly with scientific and philosophical texts and theories in order to reflect on the changing status of literature and ideas;

(4) demonstrated a critical understanding of the key debates about the relationship between literature and science;

(5) strengthened their skills in academic writing, argumentation, and evaluation of evidence from primary and critical literature, appropriate to level I/5.

Teaching details

1 x 2 hours seminar weekly

Assessment Details

1 case study of 2000 words (40%)

1 essay of 3000 words (60%)

Both assessments will assess ILOs 1-5.

Reading and References

Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man (1734)

Samuel Johnson, Rasselas (1759)

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)

Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species (1859)

David Locke, Science as Writing (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992)

Martin Willis, Literature and Science: A Reader’s Guide to Essential Criticism (London: Palgrave, 2015)