Course Description

Throughout the history of human thought, the concept of the machine has existed as both a way to articulate what we are like and as an “other” in relation to which humanity can be defined. This course will trace, from the early modern period to the present, this tension between the machine as other and as a metaphor for our human self. We will consider scientific and philosophical writings as well as works of fiction, textual and visual, including texts by Rene Descartes, La Mettrie, Emile Zola, Karl Capek, Alan Turing, and Donna Haraway, to map the history of a complex and ambiguous idea in human thought over centuries. These will be complemented by the occasional piece of secondary criticism from historians and literary scholars to put these ideas into context. Just as importantly, texts will often be juxtaposed in unorthodox ways in order to challenge familiar and commonly-accepted narratives about the machine and its role in human society. In addition to this historical perspective, we will also wrestle with broader humanistic questions regarding the nature of the self, the boundaries between self and other, and the relationship between human identity and technology.

Course Outline

Required Texts:

R.U.R. – Karl Capek, ISBN 978-0141182087
News from Nowhere – William Morris, ISBN 978-0140433302
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Phillip K. Dick, ISBN 978-0345404473

Other texts will be available as PDF files on Canvas.


Online registration deadline: Thursday, June 16, 5 pm CT.

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