FRANKENSTEIN AND BEYOND - COURSE DESCRIPTION
Instructor: C. Mackenzie Brown
Peer Tutor: Nupur Agrawal
Office: CC 250 C
Meeting place: TBA
Hours: 9:30-11:20 MWF; 1:30-3:30 MW;and by appointment
Hours: by appointment
Phone: x-8429; e-mail: mbrown@trinity.edu
Phone: TBA; e-mail: nagrawal@trinity.edu
Dr. Victoria Frankenstein brings the creature to life in the Trinity Library [Photograph courtesy Dr. Gordon MacAlpine] Frankenstein's creature roams the library The creature consults with the reference librarian

It’s Alive! It’s Alive! Now I know what it feels like to be God!” So, at least, claimed Dr. Frankenstein in the 1931 film classic, as his monstrous, electrified creation first flexed its twitching right arm. A few years ago Dr. Frankenstein's great-great-grand-daughter, Victoria Frankenstein, a professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, repeated the same experiment in the Trinity University Library. The creature disappeared shortly thereafter, but as rumors have it, he still wanders around the Trinity campus, although there have been no confirmed sightings in several months. Given the topic of this seminar, please be on the alert for any strange-looking, over-sized creature with green complexion, oversized boot, and--the most critical thing--bolts in his neck, lurking around upper campus. If you see him, please treat him kindly. Like many of you who are new on campus, he is rather lonely, but responds well to friendly gestures. For those who have not been kind to him...theirs is a sad story.

This seminar will examine the fascination and apprehension, if not outright horror, we humans share as we increasingly gain the knowledge and technology to penetrate, control, and perhaps even artificially create, the mysterious process we call life. Once held to be strictly a divine prerogative, the modification and creation of life, including human life, is becoming a reality as scientists uncover the secrets of living beings. A closely related theme is the creation of an ideal society in which, through science and technology, human suffering is vastly reduced if not eliminated, and full human potential is realized for every individual. Such visions of earthly utopias have inspired both enormous hope as well as vast despair.

We begin by exploring the Frankenstein theme of human curiosity and creativity run amok through novels and films, commencing with a critical analysis of the original story, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). A brief detour will provide a glimpse into the underworld of body-snatching as portrayed in Robert Louis Stevenson’s story, The Body Snatcher. We shall then move backward in time, to the creation stories of Prometheus, Genesis, Pan Gu and Nu Wa, the Golem, and Paracelsus’ living homunculus, before reversing direction and traveling, via H. G. Wells’ Time Machine, into the future. Along the way, we shall make a side trip to the Island of Dr. Moreau, explore the Brave New World of Aldous Huxley, and near the end of our journey visit another island utopia: Huxley's Island. The stories and films showcase the deeply human desire to know, to control, and to overcome the apparent deficiencies of human life in our attempts to relieve, or at least reduce, human suffering. They also reveal the deeply human need to reverence life, and to honor that higher power many of us believe to be ultimately responsible for life. Are these human urges, the desire to know and control, and the urge to bow down to a divine creator, finally in conflict? We are, according to Genesis, made in the image of God. Is that image destroyed through our Promethean propensity to create life in our own image? Is the attempt to create a world free of suffering, to create an earthly paradise, the product of human arrogance and a denial of our fallen state, or a response to our highest spiritual calling? Such are the questions raised by this seminar, but expect NO DEFINITIVE ANSWERS!

GOALS OF THE COURSE

The basic goals of the course are to:

  1. Explore a fascinating topic
  2. Improve speaking and discussion skills
  3. Improve writing skills
  4. Develop critical thinking skills
  5. As part of 4 but important enough in its own right to merit separate listing: learn to exercise fairness in the presentation of views not one's own
  6. Develop research and bibliographical skills
  7. Broaden intellectual horizons

COURSE REQUIREMENTS

Following are the speaking and writing requirements for the seminar.

  1. Five individual written projects (60 points; the first four count 10 points each, the last 20 points)
  2. Four group projects to be presented in class (8 points; 2 points each)
  3. Twenty reading responses (10 points; half a point each)
  4. Four team facilitations of class discussions (8 points; 2 points for each discussion)
  5. One individual film commentary to be presented in class (4 points)
  6. General participation in class discussion (10 points)

ATTENDANCE

Attendance is required. Three unexcused absences are allowed for the semester. Unexcused absences beyond the three will result in a 2 point reduction in course grade for each occurrence. Late arrival to class may also count as an absence.

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY STATEMENT

Trinity students are expected to be thoroughly familiar with the Honor Code. With increasing use of Internet sources and "cut and paste" technology, it is all too easy to plagiarize the work of others.  This can happen especially when you are rushed, tired, and generally stressed. Whether intentional, or due simply to forgetting to include proper citations, or especially to failing to exercise due caution in using your own wording when paraphrasing another's words, or neglecting to indicate by quotation marks the actual words of another author, it is still plagiarism!  

For this seminar, in particular, several of the projects offer a number of temptations for the harried student to take shortcuts. Many of the readings for this seminar are classics, and thus are not only available on the Internet, but also have been summarized, analyzed, critiqued, and reviewed on-line. The instructor has no problem with your accessing these summaries and reviews, but expects that consultation of these sources, if you choose to do so, is in addition to completing the reading of the original assigned text. Any submitted written work, including both reading responses and major projects, must acknowledge any such help (ideas, analyses) obtained, whether from the Internet or from books and articles. Such help should be acknowledged by appropriate citations.

Needless to say, there are other forms of academic dishonesty than plagiarizing from the Internet.  If you work together with another student on an individual project, and/or share notes, such collaboration must be acknowledged and fully described.  Such collaboration is encouraged by the instructor, since we often learn best from peers, but the collaboration must be noted (except, of course, for group projects). Please be aware of other behaviors that constitute violations of academic integrity in its various forms.  

The instructor has a basic faith in the integrity of students and their desire to live in a world where fairness and trust are dominant features of the way we conduct our lives in community with others.  Understanding and observing academic integrity are part of building that world of fairness and trust, right here at Trinity.  However, should the instructor become aware of violations of academic integrity, he will file the necessary charges. All students are under the jurisdiction of the Honor Council.  Remember: one of the penalties for any violation of academic integrity is an F for the course.

If you have any questions or doubts relating to academic integrity regarding any assignments for this class, including what help you may or may not receive on projects, PLEASE ASK THE INSTRUCTOR OF THE SEMINAR!

required books for the course

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World [1932]* New York: Harper-Collins, 1946.

Huxley, Aldous. Island [1962].* New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2009.

Naam, Ramez. More Than Human. Random House, 2010.

Paul, Richard, and Linda Elder. The Miniature guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools. Foundation for Critical Thinking, Rev. Ed., 2009.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein [1818].* J. Paul Hunter, ed. Norton Critical Edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1996.

Stevenson, Robert Louis [1881].* The Body Snatcher and Other Tales. Digireads, 2009.

Wells, H. G. The Island of Dr. Moreau [1896].* Dover Thrift Edition, 1996.

Wells, H. G. The Time Machine [1895].* Norton Critical Edition, New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2009.

*Items marked with an asterisk [all are clickable] are available in electronic format, on-line. However, some prefatory or explanatory materials for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and H.G. Wells' Time Machine are available only in the critical editions indicated and are not available on-line.


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