2-page proposal file

Bridging the Two Cultures in Class: Natural Science and Literature
Victor Fet, Department of Biological Sciences,Marshall University
Abstract: I share an experience in teaching an undergraduate Honors seminar bringing together aspects of literature
informed by natural science in the 1850s-1950s (“from Darwin to DNA”). The seminar first reviews modern
principles of genetics and evolution, focusing on human species, as discovered by science and reflected in the
dystopian literature. In the first section, we explore young H.G. Wells, the British “father of science fiction” (18661946), as he addresses human nature (The Island of Dr. Moreau) and the future evolution of a post-Darwinian
humankind (The Time Machine). In the second, central section, we concentrate on eugenics (“betterment of human
race”; precursor of modern biotechnology). We focus on the famous satire of Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940, a
physician by training), The Heart of a Dog (1925), that brought Wellsian science fiction to Russia – a testing ground
for “making a new human”. In the last section, we turn toward a Russian-American literary genius, Vladimir
Nabokov (1899-1977). His unique case illuminates childhood emotional involvement with nature’s diversity and
beauty, which formed and informed both the scientist and the artist. “There is no science without fancy, and no art
without facts”, maintained the famous writer who himself embodied a synthesis of both. This multicultural and
international seminar brings together work of scientists and writers from three countries (UK, USA, Russia). Our
focus is on the nature of human species as explored by the naturalistic view in literature. Students are encouraged
not only to read fiction and critical scholarship but to learn and discuss basic principles, facts, and mechanisms of
modern science. Homework assignments include essays, scholarly paper reviews and digests of covered fiction.
Contrary to a commonly perceived rift of the “two cultures”, this seminar bridges humanities and natural science.