I just finished my syllabus for my Technology in Literature elective this coming semester. Students will have to write two short research papers and, just for fun, I thought I’d post the assignment here and see what folks think of it. Heck, if you like, go ahead and write the papers (don’t you dare send it to me to grade, though–I’ve got enough of that already). Anyway, here we go:
The overall focus of this course is the portrayal of science and technology in literature and how those portrayals illuminate the concerns and hopes of humans living in a certain era. It tells us a lot about how they thought, what they believed, and also can tell us some things about how we have changed, if at all, from those times. In class we will be discussing certain individual works from certain time periods and analyzing them closely, but we won’t be able to fully explore everything. Your task, in two short research papers, is to expand upon our class discussions and deepen your understanding of one or several of the works we are studying, bringing in outside sources and other contemporary works to develop a unique and compelling thesis regarding the cultural and, perhaps, even scientific significance of your chosen work.
Accordingly, your precise topic is left to your discretion. I will provide suggestions below, but you needn’t be bound by them—if you can come up with a different topic that interests you more, please explore that. In general, however, you are writing an in-depth literary analysis of one or more works from either the first half (for paper 1) or the second half (for paper 2) of the twentieth century. All papers should incorporate at least 6 sources (including the primary sources), be 6-8 pages in length (approximately 1700-2400 words), feature double-spaced Times New Roman 12-point font, have numbered pages, stapled, with a works cited page in MLA format. A rough draft for each paper is allowable, but is strictly optional. If you wish to receive your rough draft back in time to make revisions for your final draft, be certain to submit it a week or more prior to the due date. Papers may be handed in at any time during the semester up until the due date. Late work is not accepted.
Paper 1 (pre-1960)
- How did the idea of British world supremacy influence HG Wells’ Time Machine?
- Is The Time Machine racist? If so, why and how? How is it related to Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden”?
- How does Asimov’s opinion of the Soviet Union affect the themes inherent in Foundation?
- Does the Galactic Empire in Foundation symbolize Ancient Rome? If so, why does Asimov choose Rome as the analog? If not, what does it symbolize instead and why?
- Is Heinlein aware of the fascist undertones to his society in Starship Troopers? What is his attitude towards fascism as depicted in the book? How does it differ, if at all, from the kind of fascism demonstrated by the Nazis in 1940s-era Germany?
Paper 2 (post-1960)
- Gibson’s depiction of cyberspace in Neuromancer represents a kind of ‘wild frontier’, in a sense (Case is a ‘cowboy’, those who operate in the matrix are apart from society, etc.). What is the meaning of this metaphor? Where does Gibson think the ‘matrix’ (what we now know as the Internet) will lead us?
- Explain and explore the role of religion and spirituality in Neuromancer. What does it mean? Why does Gibson include it?
- In Snow Crash, why does Stephenson choose to use the Mafia as protagonists and how does this differ from other late-20th century depictions of the mob and why?
- What is the symbolic significance of Hiro and Raven’s shared heritage in Snow Crash? What, if anything, is Stephenson trying to say about the future of America?
- In Banks’ Culture, he shows us a ‘perfect’ symbiosis between man and machine. How does Banks choose to portray this symbiosis? Why?
- Explore the significance of gender roles in The Player of Games and how does this parallel the changing understanding of those roles in late 20th century Western culture.