English 128 -- Science and Literature

Dr. Eric Sonstroem
Office: WPC 137 Phone: 946-2619 
Office Hours: MW 3:30-5:00pm , or by appointment. 

Spring 2017 -- 4 Units
M, W, F 2:00 - 3:15
Colliv 201

Syllabus:  www.sonstroem.com/128/


The hard sciences and literature are often thought of as two entirely separate academic domains, as two entirely separate practices.  This is far from the truth.  This class will bridge that gap, as it explores the intersections of science and literature within the realm of human culture that they share.  We will explore:

This course satisfies the General Education requirements for III-C.

Learning Objectives:

Students will leave this class with:

Literacy in reading basic scientific texts.

Required Texts:

Most of the readings will be online, or in a pdf available on the Canvas site.  Class readings must be printed out and brought to class.  You will also have to purchase three books:  Connie Willis, Bellwether (ISBN: 0553562967, link), William Orem, Across the River (ISBN: 1933896353, link), and Arthur Miller, An Enemy of the People (ISBN: 0140481400, link).


Attendance is required.  You may miss three "personal days" for any reason (and I don't want to know the reason).  After that, your final class grade will drop 1/3 of a letter grade for each additional day missed.  If you have a valid, documented reason for needing to miss more classes (eg, a valid medical reason) talk to me about that early in the course. Chronic or extreme lateness will also not be tolerated, and may count as absences as well.  The same applies to failure to participate in classroom discussion or activities.

No use of cellphones (or other texting devices), and no open computers.  Cell phone use in class may count as absences.

Print out and read the assigned reading.  The reading load is designed to be manageable and it should be varied enough to remain fun and interesting.  If you keep up with the reading, then you can participate actively in classroom discussion and write papers that are engaged and interested.  In lieu of making you buy a very expensive anthology for the class, most of your assignments are in the pdf.  This must be printed out and brought to class.  I don't want you using your computer in class.  Reading will be assessed by periodic, unannounced reading quizzes throughout the semester.  Of course, failing to keep up with the reading is likely to adversely affect other components of your grade besides just the reading quizzes.  For example, without reading it would be hard to bluff your way through:

Active participation in discussions.  This is a seminar-style class, and as such it will be more discussion-driven than other classes you may have taken.  Every student counts.  We will learn from each other here, and discover the connections between our course material as a group.  Discussion skills (framing and supporting a complex argument in real-time, active listening, etc.) are some of the most valuable skills you can take away from an English class.  If you refuse to participate in classroom discussion, you do yourself a disservice by neglecting these skills, and you do a disservice to your classmates by depriving them of your insights and perspectives.  Active and regular participation in classroom discussion will therefore be assessed as a significant part of your overall grade.  Students who contribute thoughtfully to discussion, and who listen respectfully to their classmates, will be rewarded.  Students who don't contribute, or who attempt to dominate discussions at the expense of their classmates, will not.  Here's how to prepare for discussion:

You will notice that there is a web page for the class, which you are reading now.  This more or less takes the place of both a syllabus and a coursepack.  You will be required to access this web page throughout the semester, for readings, assignments and other material. Computer access, internet access, and access to a reliable printer are therefore vital to the class.

Written work will probably be submitted to me electronically.  Hard-copy assignments should be printed on white paper, in a standard 12-point font, with one inch margins. Your papers should be double spaced, and should contain my name, your name, the course number, the date, and a title.  Student work may be retained for assessment and other purposes.

Late papers will be marked down 1/3 of a letter grade for each calendar day they are late.  I will consider giving short extensions on assignments if you contact me ahead of the due date and you have a good reason for wanting the extension.  All assigned work must be completed to pass the course.


Please refer to your Student Handbook (Tiger Lore) for a complete statement of the University Honor Code, an essential element in the academic integrity of our campus community.  If I believe you to be in violation of the University Honor Code I will refer the matter to the Office of Student Life.  Penalties for violating the Honor Code can include suspension from the University.  In other words, if you plagiarize in this class, I will probably catch you, and you will probably end up in serious trouble.

Plagiarism is the attempt to pass off someone else's text or ideas as your own. If you copy or paraphrase from any outside source, even another student, and fail to formally acknowledge this in your text, you are guilty of plagiarism. If someone else writes a paper for you, or even part of a paper for you, you are guilty of plagiarism. If you are found guilty of plagiarism, you will receive an F for the assignment, an F for the course, and a letter will be sent to your dean. There are no exceptions.

Students with Disabilities:

If you are a student with a disability, who requires accommodations, please contact Mr. Daniel Nuss, Coordinator of the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities in the McCaffrey Center for information on  how to obtain an Accommodation Request Letter.  Contact:  SSD@pacific.edu or (209) 946-2879.  Then please schedule a meeting with me during office hours or some mutually convenient time to arrange the accommodation(s).


Please notify me about any special needs during the first week of the semester.  Those students needing accommodations due to a disability should arrange a meeting with me during office hours and provide an accommodations request letter obtained from the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities in the McCaffrey Center.


The bulk of your grade will be determined by two exams, two five-page papers and one somewhat longer paper or project which you will present to the class.  There will also be a number of unannounced reading quizzes, which will be no problem if you have kept up with the reading. 

Papers 1 and 2-----

15% each

Final Paper/Project-----


Class Participation-----


Reading Quizzes-----








Grade Scale: A 100 – 93 ; A- 92.9 – 90 ; B+ 89.9 – 87 ; B 86.9 – 83 ; B- 82.9 – 80 ; C+ 79.9 – 77 ; C 76.9 – 73 ; C- 72.9 – 70 ; D+ 69.9 – 67 ; D 66.9 – 63 ; D- 62.9 – 60 ; F 59.9-0.

Tentative Schedule of Classes:

As you can see, this schedule is still a work in progress.  There are 2 reasons for this:

1) This is an upper-level English class at Pacific.  That means that you, the student, are encouraged more than ever to help shape the direction and form of the class.  Student suggestions for additional readings and/or changes to the reading are strongly welcomed.

2) This is a relatively new class, which is exciting in that it introduces some healthy uncertainty.  I have a pretty good idea of some of the places this class will end up, but I can't be completely sure until we get there.  I will make changes to the reading schedule to help focus the class themes as they emerge over the course of the semester.

Week: 1 Begins: January 16 -- Introduction:  Science, Culture, and Literature in Education and in Life
M No Class  MLK Day
W   Welcome.  Course policies.
F   T.H. Huxley, "Science and Culture"  


Week: 2 Begins: January 23 -- Are Science and Literature Two Cultures?
Matthew Arnold, "Literature and Science" 
W   C. P. Snow from "The Two Cultures".
F   J. L. Borges "The Library of Babel" and Isaac Asimov "The Last Question".


Week: 3 Begins: January 30  -- Science and Poetry
Selection of poetry.
W   Richard Feynmann "The Making of a Scientist",  Maurice Riordan "The Suspense of Strangeness", and Arthur Winfree "The Scientist as Poet".
F   The Role of the Scientist as Perceived in Contemporary Culture:

In class:  South Park "Spontaneous Combustion" and Futurama "A Big Piece of Garbage"


Week: 4 Begins: February 6  -- Paper 1
M   Rough draft of Paper 1 due in class for peer editing.

Discussion of South Park and Futurama

W   Final draft of Paper 1 due. 
F   Excerpt from Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions


Week: 5 Begins: February 13  -- The Case of Newton: Primary Texts

Isaac Newton:  From Principalia Mathematica and Optics

Isaac Newton: From Principia

W   Isaac Newton from "A Short Schem of the True Religion" and from "Of Natures Obvious Laws and Processes in Vegetation"
F   Ted Chiang, "Division By Zero" (on Canvas--Print it out and bring it to class)


Week: 6 Begins: February 20  -- The Case of Newton: Responses to Newton
M No Class

W   Jonathan Swift, from Book 3 of Gulliver’s Travels part 1.

Jonathan Swift, from Book 3 of Gulliver’s Travels part 2.

Pierre Simon de Laplace from "A Philosophical essay on Probability" 


Week: 7 Begins: February 27  -- The Structure of Change in Science
M   Connie Willis, Bellwether, "Beginning" (p. 3-44)
W   Connie Willis, Bellwether, "Bubblings" (p. 45-92)
F   Connie Willis, Bellwether, "Tributaries" (p. 93-136)
In class: Chaos Theory videos 1 and 2


Week: 8 Begins: March 6  -- Bellwether
M   Connie Willis, Bellwether, "Rapids" (p. 136-211)
W   Connie Willis, Bellwether, "Main Channel" (p. 212-end)
F   Midterm Exam


Spring Break


Week: 9 Begins: March 20  --   Darwin I
M   Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species Chapter 3 
W   Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species Chapter 4 
F   Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species Chapter 15


Week: 10 Begins: March 27  --   Darwin II
M   Richard Dawkins, from The Selfish Gene
W   Reading Susan McCarthy, "Must Dog Eat Dog" (on Canvas)
F   William Orem, Across the River, pages 1-19


Week: 11 Begins: April 3  --   Paper 2
M   William Orem, Across the River, pages 45-73
W   Rough Draft of Paper 2 is due in class for peer editing.
  Final Draft of Paper 2.


Week: 12 Begins: April 10  --   An Enemy of the People
M   Arthur Miller's adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, Act I
W   Arthur Miller's adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, Act II
F   Arthur Miller's adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, Act III


Week: 13 Begins: April 17  --   Moving toward student presentations
M   In class:  Oral Presentation and Powerpoint workshop.
Your Proposal for your Final Paper/Project is due.
W   Preparation of Student Presentations
Individual meetings about your final project.  Assignment is here
F   Individual meetings about your final project.  Assignment is here


Week: 14 Begins: April 24  --   Student Presenations
W   Micaela T., Ashley C., Megan C.
F   Delainey W. Kimi A.


Week: 15 Begins: May 1  --   Student Presenations
M   Andrew R., Cassie O., Alex L.
W   Andrew E., Miller M.
F No Class 

Our final exam is scheduled for 12-3pm, May 8.

This syllabus and accompanying material is copyright 2017, Eric Sonstroem.