Reading with Scientists

“Reading with Scientists: How to Export Literature,” English 148RS, Society, Culture and Information. Taught by Abigail Droge in the UC Santa Barbara English Department, Fall 2018 and 2019, in affiliation with the WhatEvery1Says Project. Upper-division course with 30-40 students from multiple majors meeting twice a week for an hour and fifteen minutes each day, on a ten-week term schedule.

Course Description

This course considers an experiment: what would happen if we assigned literature in a science classroom? What questions, for instance, could a well-timed excerpt of Frankenstein help you to explore in an Artificial Intelligence course? We will discuss what is to be gained and lost by making literature more mobile. How would such a model of teaching ask us to rethink the lines that we draw between disciplines, or between general education requirements and specialized majors?

Major Texts

  • Mary Shelley. Frankenstein. Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds. Edited by David H. Guston, Ed Finn, and Jason Scott Robert. MIT Press, 2017.
  • Isaac Asimov, “Runaround”
  • Ursula LeGuin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”
  • H. G. Wells, The Time Machine
  • Ted Chiang, “Story of Your Life”
  • Elizabeth Bishop, “The Fish”
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World

Learning Goals

  • what it means to read a text while keeping a different reader (not you) in mind
  • how the practices of literary and scientific study are and have been shaped by social and cultural values
  • how to communicate your thoughts on literature to a wide audience, particularly in settings that are not primarily literary

Syllabus Design

Our class time follows a general pattern that alternates between analysis and application. On Mondays, “Reading Days,” we concentrate on more traditional literary study, understanding and processing novels, short stories, and poems on their own terms. On Wednesdays, “Practicum Days,” we explore pieces about contemporary scientific issues and spend time discussing how we might “translate” or “export” our literary texts for a scientific audience. A key focus for our scientific selections is textbooks, some of which are concurrently being assigned in science courses offered at UCSB.

Full Syllabus available here:


There are four major assignments for this course, two done individually and two done in teams. The goal of each assignment is to consider different ways in which literature might be most effectively communicated to scientific audiences.

  • Frankenstein Review (Individual assignment) Pick three footnotes from our Frankenstein edition and, in about 500 words, discuss whether you find them effective, whether you would make any changes to them, and what the assumptions and motivations behind such footnotes seem to be. How do the footnotes alter the text? What relationship do they establish between the novel and the reader?
  • Reverse Annotation (Individual Assignment) Choose an excerpt from a scientific text (it can be one we have read in class or one of your own choosing) and annotate it with reference to Frankenstein. The idea here is that we are reversing the footnote process of our Frankenstein edition: instead of annotating a literary text with science, we are annotating a scientific text with literature. You must include at least five substantive footnotes and give a brief (~500 word) synopsis of your strategy. What new understanding do you hope that your audience (either literary or scientific) comes away with?
  • Lesson Plan (Team Assignment) In teams, come up with a lesson plan for teaching literature in a non-literary setting. You should pick a text (it doesn’t have to be one we have read in class) and design a 30-minute activity around it (or a key excerpt from it) that can engage a scientific audience at any level of your choosing, whether it be a college Chemistry lab, a Google employee meeting, or a group of advanced-career doctors. In a 500-word preface to the lesson plan, your team should define a specific issue that you want to address with your activity and describe the motivations, goals, and teaching strategies behind your decisions. You should be ready to explain your ideas briefly to the class.
  • Curated Text (Team Assignment) As a team, annotate a text (or a group of shorter texts) in a way that bridges science and literature. You can decide which direction you want your annotations to go – you may annotate a literary text with reference to science, or you may annotate a scientific text with reference to literature. You may use a course text or pick one of your own; it can also be the same text as that used in your lesson plan, but it need not be. (If using a text not on the syllabus, please provide a brief summary.) The final curated text should consist of four elements: 1) Collectively, you should write a 1000-word preface to the text, speaking to your imagined audience, introducing them to the text, and explaining the decisions that you have made. 2) Each team member should provide three substantive annotations pertaining to specific passages in your text. Your footnotes should in some way establish a connection between literature and science. 3) In a Teaching Appendix, each team member should contribute one idea (in at least 100 words) for how your text could be taught – an activity, a series of discussion questions, etc. 4) Each team member should write up a 750-word (min) reflection on the process of “translating” your text for a specific audience. What was difficult? What was rewarding? How did you make decisions? Did the experience prompt you to read the text in a new way? What does “reading with” mean to you?


For more about the experience of teaching “Reading with Scientists,” including detailed discussion of lesson plans, readings, and assignments, see the blog series below, originally published on the WhatEvery1Says website by Abigail Droge under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. WhatEvery1Says is a Mellon-funded public humanities project, and the posts were written by Droge in her capacity as Director of the Curriculum Lab. Click on each title to read the full post.

Sample Student Work

[To come]