How to Solve Problems with Books: Explaining Ourselves to the Victorians

How would we tell the Victorians about ourselves? Specifically, how would we ask their advice about the legacies of industrialism that we face in the twenty-first century? These questions structure the first in a series of assignments for “How to Solve Problems with Books.” Taken as a whole, the assignment sequence is meant to enact […]

How to Solve Problems with Books: Syllabus Design

We are excited to kick off the Winter quarter here at UCSB! This term, I’ll be teaching a new class called “Uses of Literature: How to Solve Problems with Books.” I here share my syllabus and lay out some of the aims of the course. Like my Fall course, “Reading with Scientists,” “How to Solve […]

Reading with Scientists: The Time Machine and Environmental Science

What stories do both literary and scientific texts tell about the environment? This question motivated a “Reading with Scientists” unit that paired H. G. Wells’s famous novella, The Time Machine (1895), with four selections representing different aspects of environmental science: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything (2014), and the websites of […]

Reading with Scientists: Ursula Le Guin’s Omelas and the Dystopia of Big Data

What should you do when you realize you’re living in a dystopia? The wisdom of Ursula Le Guin helped us to tackle this question in “Reading with Scientists.” We began by reading Le Guin’s classic short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” Coming in at only ten pages, the plot is simple, yet […]

Reading with Scientists: Isaac Asimov and Driverless Cars

Which is scarier: a technology that follows human orders or one that acts for itself? After bringing to a close our encounters with Frankenstein’s rebellious Creature, “Reading with Scientists” turned to Isaac Asimov’s classic short story “Runaround” to consider the opposite extreme: a creation that does what it’s told. “Runaround,” originally published in 1942 and […]

Reading with Scientists: Students Imagine New Ways to Teach Literature

Imagine yourself as a teacher who must engage a scientific audience in a conversation about literature. This is the prompt that I want students to consider for our next assignment in “Reading with Scientists.” In this post, I’d like to share the content of the assignment sheet that I’ve handed out to students, who will […]

Reading with Scientists: Victor Frankenstein, College Student

Does our current education system tend to produce or prevent Frankensteins? This question has been of central importance to our “Reading with Scientists” class over the past three weeks, and as we close our engagement with Mary Shelley’s novel, I’d like to reflect on some of our key discussions. In the first volume of Frankenstein, […]

Reading with Scientists: Annotate. Advocate.

The version of Frankenstein central to the “Reading with Scientists” syllabus is “Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds” (MIT Press, 2017). Footnotes by multiple authors, some connecting passages to current scientific issues, others filling in literary or historical context, and still others posing difficult ethical questions or providing explicit moral counsel, are […]

Reading with Scientists: Frankenstein and CRISPR

We have reached the heart of Frankenstein. This week in “Reading with Scientists,” we paired Shelley’s novel with selections on the genome-editing technology known as CRISPR. Think of it as a tool for DNA customization; CRISPR allows scientists to add or delete certain genetic characteristics, essentially giving us the power to design living organisms to […]