Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a nineteenth-century gothic novel, is well-placed to establish conversations between scientists and humanists. Highly recommended is the 2017 MIT Press Edition: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein. Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds. Edited by David H. Guston, Ed Finn, and Jason Scott Robert.
- Computer Scientists
- Medical Professionals
- Artificial Intelligence
- Big Data
- Education Reform
- Genetic Engineering
- Social Media and Internet Privacy
The following ideas are drawn from the syllabus of “Reading with Scientists: How to Export Literature,” a class taught by Abigail Droge in the UC Santa Barbara English Department.
Reading Frankenstein in tandem with texts drawn from other fields can help to raise conversations about important issues, from artificial intelligence to genetic engineering.
Frankenstein pairs well with these excerpts and resources:
- Emma Pierson, “Hey, Computer Scientists! Stop Hating on the Humanities” (Wired, April 24, 2017)
- Center for Science and the Imagination website (ASU)
- Radiolab podcast, “Update: CRISPR” (Feb 24, 2017)
- Stephen H. Tsang (Ed.), Precision Medicine, CRISPR, and Genome Engineering
- Stuart J. Russell and Peter Norvig, Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, Third Edition
- Ibo Van De Poel and Lamber Royakkers, Ethics, Technology, and Engineering: An Introduction
- Charu C. Aggarwal, Data Mining: The Textbook
- Facebook, “Data Policy”
- Highlights from Mark Zuckerberg’s Senate Hearing
The following exercises are inspired by the MIT Press 2017 edition of Frankenstein, Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds. This edition includes extensive footnotes that relate the novel to current and historical scientific and social issues.
- Pick three footnotes from the MIT Press 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?
- Choose an excerpt from a scientific text and annotate it with reference to Frankenstein. The idea here is that we are reversing the footnote process of the MIT Press Frankenstein edition: instead of annotating a literary text with respect to science, we are annotating a scientific text with respect to 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?
For more about the experience of teaching Frankenstein, including detailed discussion of lesson plans and assignments, see the blogposts below, each of which were 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. Click on a title to read the full post.
How would you characterize the current relationship between literature and science at UCSB? This question kicked off our first day of “Reading with Scientists: How to Export Literature.” Groups of students came up to the board and mapped out where they see the disciplines converging and diverging; their collective notes opened a number of doors for conversation. Some focused on methodological and philosophical overlaps, such as the use of observation, argument, and evidence. Others discussed structures within the university that encourage interdisciplinarity, such as courses and exhibits. And still others described personal conversations with peers as a key site of interaction. Simple questions like “What do you study?” or “What did you do in class today?” can become an opportunity either for communication or confusion. [Read more…]
We have reached the heart of Frankenstein. This week in “Reading with Scientists,” we paired Shelley’s novel with selections on the genome-editing technology known as CRISPR. Think of it as a tool for DNA customization; CRISPR allows scientists to add or delete certain genetic characteristics, essentially giving us the power to design living organisms to order. For context, we listened to a Radiolab podcast episode (“Update: CRISPR” from February 2017). We then launched into excerpts from a scientific textbook edited by Stephen H. Tsang, Precision Medicine, CRISPR, and Genome Engineering (2017). At stake was the central question, shared across our texts, of the creator’s responsibility for the created. [Read more…]
The version of Frankenstein central to the “Reading with Scientists” syllabus is “Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds” (MIT Press, 2017). Footnotes by multiple authors, some connecting passages to current scientific issues, others filling in literary or historical context, and still others posing difficult ethical questions or providing explicit moral counsel, are liberally sprinkled throughout the novel. In a Preface, the editors describe a collaborative process of annotation [Read more...]
Does our current education system tend to produce or prevent Frankensteins? This question has been of central importance to our “Reading with Scientists” class over the past three weeks, and as we close our engagement with Mary Shelley’s novel, I’d like to reflect on some of our key discussions. In the first volume of Frankenstein, a young Victor goes off to University at Ingolstadt to study science. We often think of Frankenstein as a solitary, romanticized hero, tinkering away in a laboratory by himself. And, indeed, as has been well-documented, much of his downfall is due to the way he shuns social relationships with family and friends throughout the process of creating the monster. But to concentrate on Frankenstein’s solitude is also to miss an important aspect of his education: the teachers and academic structures that surround him, and, in many ways, facilitate his grave invention. [Read more…]