STS 411
Monstrosity Fall 2024
Division II
Cross-listed REL 347

Class Details

The history of science is full of monsters. From the grotesque homunculi of alchemical lore, through the stitched-together corpses of the gothic imagination, to the fearsome mutants of the atomic age, each era has birthed its own nightmares as it has strived to unlock the secrets of nature. At the heart of this course lies the premise that monsters–be they born of alchemy, literature, or the lab–serve as critical mirrors to a society’s norms, embodying the deviations and transgressions against the constructed “normal” within various cultural and historical contexts. Monsters often challenge and redefine boundaries, reflecting inherent ideas of the natural, anxieties about gender and race, and troubling binary oppositions such as human versus animal, animate versus inanimate, and the living versus the dead. This course will show how the concept of monstrosity has shaped scientific inquiry, medical practices, and technological advancements. We will trace a roughly chronological and thematic journey navigating through different epochs and aspects of monstrosity: from early notions of the connection between demons and disease, through the marvels of the “Scientific Revolution,” to the spectacle of anatomical wonders and “freak shows.” We will explore the eerie corridors of Gothic and early horror literature, where science births its own type of monsters, and scrutinize how the dawn of evolutionary theory produced new notions of monsters, mutants, and other anomalous bodies. The course will further examine the dark intersections of eugenics, race, and monstrosity, before venturing into the realm of genetic anomalies and anxieties reflecting changing notions of biological inheritance. We will explore the concepts of abjection and the monstrous feminine, revealing how monstrosity intersects with the constructions of gender, sexuality, and desire. We will spend a week on the psychological appeal of horror and speculations about why we love to be terrorized. Finally, we look ahead to the future, contemplating how ongoing scientific and medical innovations continue to redefine the boundaries of what is considered monstrous. (This course will function as a senior seminar for Science & Technology Studies concentrators, but it is also open to students with other concentrations/interests.)
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 15
Expected: 10
Class#: 1856
Grading: no pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Weekly critical reflections, an independent research project culminating in a 10-15 page research paper (Alternatively, students may opt to create a work of fiction paired with a shorter research paper instead of the final research paper, pending the instructor's approval).
Prerequisites: none.
Enrollment Preferences: Preference will be given to STS concentrators.
Distributions: Division II
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
REL 347 Division II STS 411 Division II
Attributes: STS Senior Seminars

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