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Unit information: Contemporary Literature and Science in 2018/19

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Unit name Contemporary Literature and Science
Unit code ENGL30049
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Josie Gill
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit explores the relationship between science and literature since 1990. Reading a range of contemporary literary texts and best-selling popular science writing, we will examine representations of genetics, evolutionary theory, neuroscience and physics. As we consider key critical debates about the relationship between the disciplines, we will address: differences between literary and scientific ways of knowing the world; the extent to which contemporary literature and science constitute ‘two cultures’; the role of literature in a period dominated by scientific explanations of human life; the ethical challenges posed by contemporary science and writers’ responses to them; literary language and metaphor in science; and the influence of scientific ideas and methodologies on literary form.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have

(1) developed a detailed knowledge of a wide range of literary and non-fiction texts that engage with science;

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

(3) acquired an understanding of major critical approaches to the primary texts;

(4) demonstrated their ability to analyse and compare scientific and literary texts;

(5) strengthened their skills in academic writing, argumentation, and evaluation of evidence from primary texts and critical literature.

Teaching details

1 x 2-hour seminar per week.

Assessment Details

  • 1 essay of 2,000 words (40%)
  • 1 essay of 3,000 words (60%)

The 2000 word summative essay assesses ILOs 1-3 and 5. The 3000 word summative essay assesses ILOs 1-5.

Reading and References

Ian McEwan, Saturday (London: Jonathan Cape, 2005)

Zadie Smith, White Teeth (London: Penguin, 2000)

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (London: Faber and Faber, 2005)

Michael Frayn, Copenhagen (London: Samuel French, 2000)

Richard Dawkins, A Devil's Chaplain: Selected Essays, ed. Latha Menon (London: Phoenix, 2003)

Sharon Ruston (ed.), Literature and Science , Vol. 61. Essays and Studies (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2008)