Science fiction and American Culture

More than other genres, science fiction has the potential to imagine the world as a radically different place where inequalities can be critiqued, altered or even abolished. This class will focus on the way that feminist writers of American science fiction have used this potential to imagine worlds in which women are full participants. We will cover a broad sweep of American novels and films to consider ideas such as: matriarchal societies; the undermining of traditional gender roles (or even the idea of gender itself); the relationship between sex, gender, and sexuality; and gender and race.

American cities

Today more than 50% of the world’s population live in cities - and in the United States this number is a staggering 82.5 %. However, to study the city is not merely to collect facts and figures but also to think about the ways that we imagine and represent urban space. As the travel writer Jonathan Raban has said, “the city as we imagine it, the soft city of illusion, myth, aspiration, and nightmare, is as real, maybe more real than the hard city one can locate on maps” (1984). In this class we will cover a broad sweep of 20th century American novels, poetry, films, and plays to consider questions such as: What is the relationship between the written city and the lived city? How has the American city altered over the course of the century? How do different populations experience urban space - with a central focus on race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality throughout the course. 

Literary natures

Nature is not over there in the “wilderness,” but is all around us. It is within us, it is the middle of the largest city, it is the depths of the oceans, it is nuclear waste sites, and it is indigenous lands. This class surveys a range of 18th 19th, 20th, and 21st century novels, poetry, drama, and films that respond to and ask questions such as: what is the line between the human and the animal?; in what ways is environmental damage unequally distributed over different populations?; how do we represent the centuries-long disaster of nuclear waste or melting ice caps?; and how do we imagine the world after the environmental apocalypse?