Biology/English 223
College Seminar II
Bryn Mawr College
Spring 2004

The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories:
Exploring the Significance of Diversity

Anne Dalke (English House, ext. 5308,
Paul Grobstein (Park Science Building, ext. 5098,

Ahab: "There is a tragicalness in being human."
Una's inner reply: "Yes--but that is only one way.
There are many ways. We choose."

The images on these pages are reproduced with permission of
Rieko Nakamura and Toshihiro Anzai; you can see a
complete display of their work at
(Thanks to Andrea Friedman for telling us
about this "evolutionary" art form.)

We will experiment, in this course, with two interrelated and reciprocal inquiries: whether the biological concept of evolution is a useful one in understanding the phenomena of literature (in particular: the generation of new stories), and whether literature contributes to a deeper understanding of evolution. We will begin with an exploration of the basis for the "story" of evolution as developed by biologists, move on to a consideration of the relevance of the concept of evolution for making sense of other bodies of information and observations, and then turn to a consideration of one literary story growing out of another. We will ask repeatedly: Where do stories (scientific and literary) come from? Why do new ones emerge? What causes them to change? Why do (must?) some of them disappear? We will consider the parallels between diversity of stories and diversity of living organisms, and think about what new insights into evolution and literature emerge from such considerations.

Required Texts:

John Schwartz. "A History of Strange Bounces, A Future of the Unexpected."
The New York Times Week in Review. December 28, 2003. 1,4.

William Broad. "Be Careful What You Look For On Mars: A Cosmic Ego Trip."
The New York Times Week in Review. January 22, 2004. 1,5.

Ernst Mayr. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic, 2001.

Daniel Dennett. Darwin's Dangerous Idea:
Evolution and the Meanings of Life.
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Jonathan Culler. Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Herman Melville. Moby-Dick or, The Whale.
1851; rpt. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001.

Sena Jeter Naslund. Ahab's Wife Or, The Star-Gazer: A Novel.
New York: Morrow, 1999.

Week One: Playing/Setting Things Up
Tues, Jan. 20
Thurs, Jan. 22
Schwartz and Broad, The New York Times Week in Review
Mars Exploration Rover Mission
European Space Agency: Mars Express

Weeks Two-Four:
Where Does the Story of Biological Evolution Come From?

Tues, Jan. 27 Mayr. Chapters 1-4 (pp. 3-82)
Thurs, Jan. 29 Mayr, Chapters 1-4, continued
Tues, Feb. 3 Mayr, Chapters 5-8 (pp. 83-173)
Thurs, Feb. 5 Mayr, Chapters 5-8, continued
Tues, Feb. 10 Mayr, Chapters 9-12 (pp. 174-268)
Thurs, Feb. 12 Mayr, Chapters 9-12, continued

FRIDAY, FEB. 20: Write a 3-4 pp. paper in which you think through some problem that has been raised in your mind by our discussion of biological evolution. This is not a "reaction paper" (like your forum postings), but should rather make a claim, develop a thesis, and support it with evidence which you have drawn from several new resources you have located (either in the form of written texts or on the web).

Some sample topics:

Bring a hard copy to your section leader's office (Anne's in English House, Paul's in Park) by 5 p.m. Friday, February 20; you will also be asked to paste/post a copy of the paper in a course web forum (see Paper Preparation and Submission).

Weeks Five-Seven: Is Evolution a Useful Story Beyond Biology?
Tues, Feb. 17 Dennett, Part I: Starting in the Middle (pp. 17-145)
Thurs, Feb. 19 Dennett, Part I, continued
Tues, Feb. 24 Dennett, Chapters 12-14 (pp. 335-427)
Thurs, Feb. 26 Dennett, Chapters 12-14, continued
Tues, Mar. 2 Dennett, Chapters 15-18 (pp. 428-521)
Thurs, Mar. 4 Dennett, Chapters 15-18, continued


Weeks Eight-Thirteen: How and why do Literary Stories Evolve?
Tues, Mar. 16 Culler, Chapters 1-4 (pp. 1-69)
Thurs, Mar. 18 Culler, Chapters 5-8 (pp. 70-122)

Fri, Mar. 19 [NOTE EXTENSION] Paper #2 due
3-4 pp. on some aspect of the story of evolution beyond the context of biology which is of particular interest or use to you. Submit a hard copy and post a copy of the paper in a course web forum (see Paper Preparation and Submission).

Tues, Mar. 23 Melville, through Ch. 26 (p. 104)
Thurs, Mar. 25 Melville, through Ch. 53 (p. 199)
Tues, Mar.30 Melville, through Ch. 92 (p. 319)
Thurs, Apr. 1 Melville, through Epilogue (p. 427)
Tues, Apr. 6 Naslund, pp. 1-111
Thurs, Apr. 8 Naslund, pp. 111-222
Tues, Apr. 13 Naslund, pp. 222-333
Thurs, Apr. 15 Naslund, pp. 333-444

Fri, Apr. 16 Paper #3 due:
3-4 pp. on some aspect of the evolution of literary stories that particularly interests--or is useful--to you. Submit a hard copy and post a copy of the paper in a course web forum (see Paper Preparation and Submission).

Tues, Apr. 20 Naslund, pp. 444-555
Thurs, Apr. 22 Naslund, pp. 555-666

Week Fourteen (Tues, Apr. 27 and Thurs, Apr. 29)
Bringing it all together--telling each other new stories
Spontaneously formed emergent groups of four or so students each should prepare ten-fifteen minute presentations reflecting on some aspect of the course readings. Presentations should encourage, in a provocative and entertaining way, further story development on the part of others in the class.

Photo Gallery of the Performances

Friday, May 7 (seniors); Friday, May 14 (all others)
Paper #4 and Portfolio Due.
Paper #4:
10-12 pp. in which you make use of the biological, philosophical and literary stories of the course to create a new, interesting, useful story of your own--one that might well (in consultation with your instructor) have a creative dimension.
Instructions for Preparing Your Portfolio

Course Requirements:


  • 1/6: participation in class and on-line conversations
  • 1/6 each: papers # 1, 2, 3
  • 1/3: final paper
In this class, we'll be exploring how diversity is fundamental to all levels of organization, in both biological and cultural systems. It will be clear, from that exploration, why we think a single grade will not adequately reflect your various, distinctive efforts in the class; nor do we think it will function as an adequate index to how you may perform in other contexts. We hope you'll regard this score as only one measure of your accomplishments, and take into account your own sense of how what you achieve here relates to your own goals. We're of course happy to discuss all these matters with you in conference.

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