English 250: Representing Non-Human Life in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Britain

Instructor: Professor Joanna Picciotto

This course fulfills an elective requirement for the DE in REMS.

We will explore techniques developed by scientists, theologians, and poets to represent other life forms. Contexts we’ll investigate include encounters with new-world flora and fauna, the invention of the microscope, and contemporary debates over reproduction and the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Alongside questions related to medium and genre, we’ll consider when the representation of other creatures becomes representation in an almost political sense, casting the animal as a voiceless subject on whose behalf (and from whose “place”) the author tries to speak. We will also track how new approaches to the physical investigation of animals and plants affected their traditional status as natural symbols (of various vices and virtues, for example). Finally, we will consider the special challenges and opportunities posed by representing creatures that continued to elude empirical study, such as angels.

Secondary reading will be drawn from the history of science, with some philosophy.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes