Instructor: Dennis Danielson
Meets: Tuesdays 2:00-5:00pm
“If the heavens be penetrable, as these men deliver and no lets, it were not amisse in this aeriall progresse to make wings, and fly up.” –Robert Burton, “Digression of Aire,” Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621
“Very many … affirmed our Earth to be one of the Planets, and the Sunne to be the Center of all, about which the heavenly bodies did move. And how horrid soever this may seeme at the first, yet is it likely enough to be true… Now if our earth were one of the Planets… then why may not another of the Planets be an earth?” –John Wilkins, The Discovery of a World in the Moon 1638
The seventeenth century saw not only the “discovery” and colonization of the “New World” (now North and South America) but also a momentous if gradual shift in the human, philosophical, and literary understanding of Earth’s position in the Universe, indeed of the very nature of the physical Cosmos. Nor was this shift simple, uncontested, or painless. Yet it was accompanied by some remarkable scientific and fictional attempts to theorize other worlds, starting with the Moon, and extending to the planets and beyond.
The purpose of this research-based course will be to develop a lively collective sense of the excitement and new resources of thought that permitted this first age of science fiction, which developed in tandem with the cosmological bricolage of poets and natural philosophers. Our resources will comprise not only hard-copy assigned texts but also the astonishingly rich resources available through Early English Books Online (EEBO). Among the practical benefits of the course will accordingly be fluency with early-modern typography and bibliography, acquired by means of intensive use of the resources of EEBO. Common readings will be balanced by students’ individual investigations of such subjects as the colonial impulse (terrestrial and/or extraterrestrial); navigation (nautical and/or astronautical); optics (microscopic as well as telescopic); reinterpretations and re-imaginings of the world (both macrocosm and microcosm) in response to Copernicanism; the formation of heroes of science (e.g., Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon); the rhetoric of scientific debate (e.g., the Wilkins/Ross controversy concerning Earth qua planet); chemical, alchemical, atomist, magnetic, and/or anatomical issues as they shaped views of the nature of physical reality; use of English itself as a language of scientific communication; and so on.
Grading will be based on in-class contributions, seminar presentations, and a major independent research essay.
Common reading material:
- Galileo. The Starry Messenger [Sidereus Nuncius] (1610). Ed. and trans. Albert Van Helden. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.
- Galileo. Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632). Trans. Stillman Drake 1953; Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967.
- Godwin, Francis. The Man in the Moon: or a Discourse of a Voyage Thither (1638). Ed. William Poole. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2009.
- Kepler, Somnium (1634). Madison, WI: University of Madison Press, 1967.
- Milton, John. Paradise Lost (1667, 1674). Various acceptable editions.