C LIT 210 A: Literature and Science

Winter 2022
TTh 10:30am - 12:20pm / SMI 304
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
CHID 220 A
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

                            Course Syllabus: COMP LIT 210/CHID 220

       Literature and Science: The (His)Stories of Science

 Winter 2022                                                                     Professor Gary Handwerk

Tues/Thur 10:30-12:20; Smith 304,,,eventually              Office: A-402 Padelford    

E-mail: handwerk@uw.edu                                                 Office Hours: Th 2-4 PM and by appt.

Canvas Site: https://canvas.uw.edu/courses/1514673    Office Phone 543-2183

TA: Jingsi Shen (shenjs@uw.edu)                         Office Hours: On-line at start of quarter, Wed 1-3:


About the course:

Modern science is typically understood as a research enterprise, one with practical applications, but essentially a process of investigation into or discovery of facts about the natural world.  It is that, to be sure.  But science is in equally fundamental ways a social, civic, cultural and political enterprise, deeply intertwined with the ways in which human beings define themselves and organize their activities.  This holds true, indeed is especially true, for non-scientists and non-researchers.  Our topic in this course will be this aspect of science: how it reaches into social life, shaping the cognitive frameworks through which we understand our world (and ourselves), affecting public processes of social and political decision-making, and influencing our daily interactions with people and with the natural world in ways that can be obvious or unobtrusive.

Our core material will be at a set of what one might term either natural history or public science texts.  Each deals with one or more scientific issues of wide social concern in its era; each was widely reviewed and broadly read; each had significant impact upon how the project of science has come to be socially construed and practiced.  These texts range from Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859; selections only!), the seminal text for modern evolutionary theory, through Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), which helped launch modern environmental movements, to a trio of more recent texts dealing with climate change, ecology, epidemiology and public health.  Although different in substance and in style, all of them share one key feature: unusual rhetorical skill.  All are works carefully crafted to achieve wide readerships and to have a significant influence upon public debates and political decision-making—not only informing or educating the public about environmental issues, but also shaping the deep base of beliefs and values that frames social and political negotiation about public policies related to those issues.  This element—rhetorical effectiveness—will be our primary analytical focus.  Why, and even more centrally, how did these works succeed in having the impact that they did? 

In school, many of us learned science primarily as a matter of facts, information and theories, plowing through textbooks, generally one discipline at a time.  But the influence of the sciences upon us persists and permeates our lives in myriad other ways as well. To approach this topic from the angle of the humanities will for us mean foregrounding one particular mode through which science has its impact: the power of stories and story-telling. Some of you may read scientific journals, at least occasionally, dipping into Nature or the New England Journal of Medicine or Transactions of the American Geophysical Union to read an article of particular relevance or interest for you.  For most of us (indeed, even for many scientists outside of their own disciplinary specialties), however, science comes to us framed by narrative, embedded in anecdotes or reporting or personal memoir, couched in terms of the ethical or political implications a particular theory or discovery is presumed to have, or set into a broader historical perspective (hi-story, itself a form of story).  As these options suggest, narrative is not a single thing; it has various well-defined forms (termed genres) that function more or less appropriately in varied settings.  So another part of what we will be doing in this class is to hone your awareness of genres—how different ones are constructed with an eye to specific reader expectations, what devices particular genres employ, and why.

Learning to read these kinds of texts from an alert “literary” perspective is a skill that we can also bring to bear on non-literary texts.  Most kinds of discourse make extensive use of “literary” sorts of strategies, deploying not just narrative structures, but features such as imagery, allegory, tone and other elements typical of literary texts to help them achieve their rhetorical purposes.  Indeed, it is rare that scientific expertise proves to be the sole determining factor even for decision-making about what one might see as scientific issues—the realities of global warming, for instance, or the decision to protect or not protect an endangered species, or the choice to approve (or not) a specific chemical or medication for wide-spread use.  It is even rarer for politicians or bureaucrats or activists to refrain from the slanting of perspective that rhetoric can provide (thus the not-so-distant renaming of global warming as “climate change”).  So the analysis we will practice in this class is in an important way transferable to the reading and the writing you may do in very different contexts.

Comparative Literature 210/CHID 220 will be a writing-intensive course, but in a class as large as this one, much of the writing will necessarily be informal, low-stakes, ungraded writing.  You will be writing in your e-journal on a regular basis for every class.  That writing will provide me with one key measure of your engagement in the course and your active reading of the texts we will be covering.  For this informal writing, PLEASE SET UP A WORD DOCUMENT AS YOUR VIRTUAL JOURNAL, TITLED WITH A FILE NAME LIKE THIS: Your name.your course number (thus: handwerk.cl210, jsshen.chid220), which you will be asked to submit via e-mail, NOT on Canvas, on a regular basis throughout the quarter.  Although you will be doing your response writing both inside and outside of class at varied times, you MUST cut-and-paste every entry into your e-journal.  You will also be doing: 1) a series of three longer, graded analytical essays, and 2) a fourth response essay on Refuge, and 3) a final ungraded self-reflective essay about your experience in the course.  You have the option to revise and resubmit one of your first three analytical essays.

COVID-19 Addendum: All that I say above in general terms has special salience in the year of COVID-19.  We have all seen first-hand how science, psychology, economics, human behavior and politics intersect…not always to the benefit of any of them.  The texts and assignments in this course, revised in some significant ways to reflect the hybrid format and the current situation, can all help us learn practice making connections across these disparate spheres of life—to com-pose (put together) our lives.  This, in turn, is a key piece of coping with the rapidly shifting, deeply uncertain world we now inhabit.

Course Texts:

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring                                     Spencer Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming

Devra Davis, When Smoke Ran Like Water               Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge

Additional Course Readings available on Canvas Web site (in the Files section, organized by folders according to author or topic name, and in the Modules)

Graded Work:

            Analytical essays (3): single-spaced,, minimal margins       20% each; 60% of final grade

            Attendance, participation, in-class writing, Refuge essay      20% of final grade

            Journal/Self-reflective essay                                                  20% of final grade

Journals: The writing journals will include two kinds of informal, ungraded writing.  Pre-class e-posts will primarily be responses to question prompts on the reading we will be covering for the next class, or involve modest on-line research on a related topic.  The in-class writing will be more personal in nature, reflective about your own past experiences with science and science education, your understanding of and experience with nature, or texts and topics from that specific day’s class.   

Analytical essays will be graded on a 10-point scale, with 9 = 4.0, 8 = 3.5, 7 = 3.0, etc.  Late papers will have 1 point deducted per day that they are late.  You will be writing three of these, each a one-page, single-spaced, no-margin paper (1100-1500 words), on topics circulated a week before the papers are due.  You will have a chance to revise one of them before submitting your portfolio.  . 

Course Learning Objectives:

  • Practice of and metacognitive reflection upon active reading skills, with attention to rhetorical strategies and purposiveness
  • Responsive, interrogative analytical writing, based on careful reading of texts and assignments
  • Understanding of how science enters into public, civic discourse
  • Awareness of the role played by stories and by narrative structures in shaping public interpretation of scientific issues, as well as other elements of persuasive writing
  • Familiarity with key issues and debates with regard to several environmental topics: pollution, climate change, evolution, epidemiology and sustainability
  • Comprehension of the Principles of Narrative Analysis and ability to apply them effectively
  • On-line objectives: learning to participate actively and effectively in virtual discussion groups, learning to make more effective use of virtual communication tools, self-reflection about the nature and effectiveness of on-line instruction

Other Essential Information:

  1. The amount and the different kinds of writing you will be doing may make this a challenging course for you. In addition, the active close reading that I expect may be something that you have not had much occasion to practice.  Especially this quarter, being partly on-line, I encourage you to ask questions in class chat rooms and/or to contact me or Jingsi Shen in office hours for further help.  It is your responsibility to come to us with issues you feel are getting in the way of your effective learning. All enrolled students receive W-credit for the course. 
  2. The median grade for the course is likely to be close to the norm for classes in the humanities at UW, around 3.3. That isn’t the bottom grade; it’s the median. This means that it is possible to get a grade below 3.3 even though you have been doing all of the assigned work and submitting everything on time. 
  3. Attendance and participation (in groups and in-class writing) are required. Moreover, they presuppose engaged and timely completion of writing assignments. We will take attendance in all class sessions and keep track of participation in on-line discussion groups, as well as using your Canvas discussion posts and your e-journal to help us assess your performance

Academic Integrity:

We assume that students will complete all assignments and other course components in good faith and by doing original work. The Student Conduct Code outlines various forms of academic misconduct, including (but not limited to):

  • Plagiarism
  • Submission of someone else’s work as your own
  • Multiple submissions of the same work in different courses without instructor permission
  • Engaging in behavior prohibited by an instructor
  • Unauthorized recording, and/or subsequent dissemination of instructional content

Failure to adhere to this code of ethics will result in referral for possible disciplinary action as described in the Student Conduct Code. You are ALWAYS expected to properly credit the ideas and words of others in your papers. Remember that plagiarism includes using someone else’s words without proper citation, using someone else’s words with citation but without quotation marks, and unacknowledged paraphrasing

Disability Accommodations:

It is our goal to insure that our learning environment is accessible to everyone.  If you have a disability and need special accommodations for note-taking, deadlines or any other aspect of your coursework, please contact Disability Resources for Students, (206) 543-8924 (V/TTY), uwdss@u.washington.edu.  If you have a documented disability, we will receive an e-mail from DRS that discusses necessary accommodations.  We are happy to work with you in any way that we can to facilitate your learning in this class! 

Religious Accommodations: 

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy (https://registrar.washington.edu/staffandfaculty/religious-accommodations-policy/). Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of the quarter using the Religious Accommodations Request form (https://registrar.washington.edu/students/religious-accommodations-request/).

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion:

 The University of Washington supports an inclusive learning environment where diverse perspectives are recognized, respected, and seen as a source of strength. In this course, we will strive to create welcoming spaces where everyone feels included and engaged regardless of their backgrounds and experiences.


Course Syllabus: COMP LIT 210/CHID 270

Literature & Science: The (His)Stories of Science

January 4         --         Via Zoom:  Course Introduction and Tech Overview

January 6         --         On Zoom again: Darwin…in brief; Phelan, “How We Evolve”

Readings for Weeks 1 & 2 are all on the course Canvas Web site

  • Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species (some required, some optional)
  • Phelan, “How We Evolve” (required)
  • Zimmer, Evolution (optional)
  • Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic” (required)


January 11       --         Leopold, “The Land Ethic”

January 13       --         Rachel Carson, Silent Spring


January 18       --         Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

January 20       --         Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

JANUARY 22             --         ANALYTICAL ESSAY #1 DUE (by midnight, on Canvas)


January 25       --         The Weight of Numbers: Environmental Epidemiology (Devra Davis)

January 27       --         Devra Davis, When Smoke Ran like Water


February 1       --         Devra Davis, When Smoke Ran like Water

February 3       --         Devra Davis, When Smoke Ran like Water

FEBRUARY 5            --         ANALYTICAL ESSAY #2 DUE (by midnight, on Canvas)


February 8       --         Global Warming/Climate Change:  Changing the Narrative

February 10     --         Spencer Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming


February 15     --         Spencer Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming

February 17     --         Spencer Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming


February 22     --         Stephen Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming

February 24     --         Weart contl; Elizabeth Kolbert, “The Siege of Miami” (Canvas File)

FEBRUARY   26        --         ANALYTICAL ESSAY #3 DUE (by midnight, on Canvas)


March 1           --         Composing Wholeness, Re-Composing Ourselves: (Terry Tempest Williams)

March 3           --         Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge


March 8           --         Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge

March 10         --         Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge

MARCH 12                --         JOURNALS DUE (by midnight, via e-mail)

MARCH 18                --         ESSAY on REFUGE DUE (by midnight, on Canvas)

Catalog Description:
Introduces the rich and complex relationship between science and literature from the seventeenth century to the present day. Students examine selected literary, scientific, and philosophical texts, considering ways in which literature and science can be viewed as forms of imaginative activity. Offered: jointly with CHID 220.
GE Requirements Met:
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated:
April 20, 2024 - 7:21 pm