Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

New Spring 2016 Course: “The Lives of Animals”

with 2 comments

I’ll be teaching two courses in the spring: a second run of my “Magic and Literature” gateway to the major and a senior capstone called “The Lives of Animals.” The first isn’t changing that much from last year, but here’s the description of the latter…

ENGLISH 4997/5997

Course Title: The Lives of Animals

Course Description: We are currently living through a historical moment that many scientists have begun to call “the Anthropocene”: the moment when the activities of human beings become visible in the geological and climatological record of the planet, recognizable many thousands or even millions of years hence. These activities unhappily coincide—and, to an overwhelming extent, have directly caused—what appears to be the beginning of the sixth mass extinction event experienced on Earth since the first evolution of life. The extinction and endangerment of huge numbers of animal species—as well as new research in biology, genomics, and cognitive science that have utterly blurred the once-clear, once-reliable distinction between “human” and “animal”—now calls on us both intellectually and ethically to reconsider the exclusion of animal life from consideration in human political and cultural institutions. This course seeks to answer that call, serving as an introduction to the interdisciplinary scholarly work in the ecological humanities that is increasingly grouped under the heading of “animal studies.” It will also intersect with fervent debates currently raging about the status of animals in the United States and around the world, including contemporary debates about zoos and aquariums; vegetarianism and medical testing; habitat preservation; and even the potential legal personhood of chimps, gorillas, dolphins, and other higher-order mammals. It will, in addition, serve as the research capstone to your English major experience at Marquette, affording you the academic tools and the creative space to independently develop a project of significant literary-critical scholarship on the troubled and troubling figure of “the animal,” exploring some of the different ways animals have been taken up as a problem by writers and thinkers working in multiple historical periods, media, genres, and literary-cultural forms.

Readings: Will be partially determined collaboratively in our initial class meetings by your interests, but will include key philosophical, scientific, and documentary texts about animal consciousness and “animal personhood,” as well as literary texts drawn from a list including Aesop’s Fables; Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels; J.M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals; the Planet of the Apes franchise; Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; the short fiction of Octavia E. Butler, Margaret Atwood, Leo Szilard, Sofia Samatar, and James Tiptree Jr.; Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials; and Disney films about animals like The Lion Kingand The Jungle Book.

Assignments: reflective personal statement, annotated bibliography, major research paper, conference-style presentation, weekly forum posts, class participation

2 Responses

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  1. Why weren’t you teaching this course back in the late 1970s when I went to Marquette? You have a time machine, right? Sounds like fun. Don’t know how you feel about his writing, but Cordwainer Smith would fit into this, too.

    Jim Higgins

    September 30, 2015 at 12:43 pm


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