Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session
If the twentieth century was the century of physics, the twenty-first promises to be the century of biology. This subject examines the cultural, political, and economic dimensions of biology in the age of genomics, biotechnological enterprise, biodiversity conservation, pharmaceutical bioprospecting, and synthetic biology. Although we examine such social concerns as bioterrorism, genetic modification, and cloning, this is not a class in bioethics, but rather an anthropological inquiry into how the substances and explanations of biology — increasingly cellular, molecular, genetic, and informatic — are changing, and with them broader ideas about the relationship between "nature" and "culture". Looking at such cultural artifacts as cell lines, biodiversity databases, and artificial life models, and using primary sources in biology, social studies of the life sciences, and literary and cinematic materials, we rephrase Erwin Schrödinger's famous 1944 question, "What Is Life?" to ask, in the early 2000s, "What Is Life Becoming?"
Students will write three 7-page papers, choosing from a selection of topics to be provided by the instructor for each paper. Each paper represents 25% of the subject grade. No emailed papers accepted. Late papers lose a full grade a day. Students will also be evaluated on class participation, including the preparation of occasional reading notes to prompt class discussion as well as contribution to classroom conversation (25% of subject grade). Punctual attendance is obligatory. There is no final.
Excerpts from the following films will be shown in class.
Lebrun, David. Proteus: A Nineteenth-Century Vision. Brooklyn, NY: Night Fire Films, 2004.
Spielberg, Steven. Jurassic Park. Universal City, CA: Universal Pictures, 1993.
Trombley, Stephen, and Bruce Eadie. The Lynchburg Story. New York, NY: Filmakers Library, Inc., 1993.
Frears, Stephen. Dirty Pretty Things. Burbank, CA: Miramax Films, 2002.
Lent, Chris. The Gene Hunters. Toronto, CA: Cineflix, 2000.
Garcia, Deborah Koons. The Future of Food. Mill Valley, CA: Lily Films, 2004.
"Beyond the Middle Passage." Episode 4 in African American Lives. Alexandria, VA: PBS Home Video, 2007.
Clearway, Ajae. One in 2000. Boston, MA: Fanlight Productions, 2006.
Painlevé, Jean, et al. "The Love Life of the Octopus." In Science is Fiction. Irvington, NY: Criterion Collection, 1967, 2009.
Wiseman, Frederick. Primate. Cambridge, MA: Zipporah Films, 1974.
Lewis, Mark. Cane Toads: An Unnatural History. New York, NY: First Run Features, 1988, 2001.
Herzog, Werner. Grizzly Man. Santa Monica, CA: Lion's Gate Films, 2004.
Friedman, Peter, and Jean-Franois Brunet. Death by Design. New York, NY: First Run Features, 1996, 2005.
Meyer, Nicholas, et al. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Hollywood, CA: Paramount, 1982, 2002.
Cronenberg, David. eXistenZ. Burbank, CA: Dimension Films, 1999.
Spielberg, Steven. A.I: Artificial Intelligence. Universal City, CA: DreamWorks, 2001.
Wise, Robert, Michael Crichton, and Nelson Gidding. The Andromeda Strain. Universal City, CA: Universal Studios, 1971, 2003.
Low, Stephen. Volcanoes of the Deep Sea. Chatsworth, CA: Image Entertainment, 2004.
Cameron, James. Aliens of the Deep. Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 2005.