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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Jesse Oak Taylor
ENGL 529
Seattle Campus

Topics in Nineteenth-Century Studies

Class description

Victorian Posthumanism

The Victorian age saw a radical unsettling of the idea of “man” that had been developed as a central element of humanism and Enlightenment philosophy. This occurred perhaps most famously in the development of evolutionary theory (both pre- and post-Darwin) that articulated the human as an evolved and evolving organism, with accordant implications for the status of race, gender, class, urbanization, and empire. However, similar changes are also evident in the increasing importance (and power) of machines (the railroad, steamship, etc.), information technology such as the telegraph, phonograph and telephone, changes print culture and legal structures, and developments across a range of scientific disciplines from geology and physics to epidemiology and statistics. In the process, the Victorian era offers a means to trace the prehistory of contemporary discussions of posthumanism and theoretical developments in related arenas such as animal studies, ecocriticism, and disability studies. In this course, we will trace these intersections and explore their effect on (and borrowing from) the literature of the period by reading works by Charles Dickens, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, George Eliot, Olive Schreiner, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, and H.G. Wells alongside excerpts from the writings of Victorian scientists and social theorists such as Charles Lyell, Charles Darwin, and Herbert Spencer. We will juxtapose this material with recent writing on posthumanism, ecocriticism, and new critical approaches to the Victorian period drawing on these theoretical frameworks.

Texts: (I have ordered these editions to the University Bookstore, but you are welcome to use any other editions that you may posses.) All other readings will be excerpts posted on Canvas. However, you may want to purchase some or all of those texts as well, especially the text on which you are writing your book review assignment.

Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern. Harvard: ISBN 978-0674948396 Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend. Penguin: ISBN 978-0140434972 George Eliot, Silas Marner. Oxford: ISBN: 9780199536771 Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm. Oxford: ISBN 978-0199538010 Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Oxford: ISBN: 9780199536221 Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four. Penguin: ISBN 9780140439076 Michel Serres, Malfeasance: Appropriation Through Pollution. Stanford: 978-084773034 Bram Stoker, Dracula. Penguin: ISBN 9780141439846 H. G. Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau. Penguin: ISBN 9780141441023

Readings: Week 1. M: NO CLASS Read, Read, Read your Dickens!! W: Latour, “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?”; Chakrabarty, “Climate of History”; Wolfe, from What is Posthumanism?

Week 2. M: Lyell, from Principles of Geology; Tennyson, from In Memoriam A. H. H.; De Landa, from A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History W: Darwin, from On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man; Grosz, from The Nick of Time

Week 3. M: Dickens, Our Mutual Friend; Latour, We Have Never Been Modern W: Dickens, Our Mutual Friend; Freedgood, from The Ideas in Things; Bennett, from Vibrant Matter; Connelly, from The Fragility of Things

Week 4. M: Dickens, Our Mutual Friend; Otis, from Networking; Ketabgian, from Lives of Machines W: Dickens, Our Mutual Friend. Barad, from Meeting the Universe Halfway; Hansen “System Environment Hybrids”

Week 5. M: Eliot, Silas Marner; Spencer, from Principles of Biology; Bateson, from Steps Toward an Ecology of Mind W: Eliot, Silas Marner; Ryan, from Thinking Without Thinking in the Victorian Novel and Greener, from Sympathetic Realism in Nineteenth Century British Fiction

Week 6. M. Schreiner, The Story of An African Farm; Jameson, from Antimonies of Realism; Brennan, from The Transmission of Affect W. Schreiner, The Story of An African Farm; Haraway, from When Species Meet

Week 7. M: Stevenson, Jekyll & Hyde; Taussig, from Mimesis and Alterity W: Conan Doyle, The Sign of the Four; Cohen, from Embodied; Alaimo, from Bodily Natures

Week 8. M: Stoker, Dracula; Serres, Malfeasance W. Stoker, Dracula; Parikka, from Insect Media; Uexkull, from A Foray into The Worlds of Animals and Humans

Week 9. M: Stoker, Dracula; Nixon, from Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor W: Stoker, Dracula; Jefferies, from After London; Morton, from Hyperobjects

Week 10. M: Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau; Wolfe, from Before the Law; Agamben, from Homo Sacer W. Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau; Conclusions: What is Victorian Posthumanism?

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading

The course will include two written assignments, the most significant of which is a seminar paper (8-10 pages) of the kind that might be delivered at an academic conference, due at the end of the term. Each student will also write one "book review" (500 words +/-) focusing on one of the supplemental readings. That review will be posted on the course Canvas site for everyone in the course to read in advance the course meeting in which we will discuss that text.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Jesse Oak Taylor
Date: 02/26/2014