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 a biology text which explains and explores evolution, then pause to consider a philosophical reflection on the meaning of the concept in a more general context, before turning to one literary story which grew out of another. We will ask repeatedly: Where do stories 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 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.

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
Schwartz (1,4)
Thurs, Jan. 22 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
Fri, Feb. 13 Paper #1 due:
3-4 pp. on some aspect of the story of biological evolution
which is particularly interesting or useful to you.

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
Fri, Mar. 5 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.


Weeks Eight-Twelve: Literature as Evolution? Evolution as Literature?
Tues, Mar. 16 Culler, Chapters 1-4 (pp. 1-69)
Thurs, Mar. 18 Culler, Chapters 5-8 (pp. 70-122)
Tues, Mar. 23 Melville
Thurs, Mar. 25 Melville continued
Tues, Mar.30 Naslund
Thurs, Apr. 1 Naslund continued
Tues, Apr. 6 Melville and Naslund, continued
Thurs, Apr. 8 Melville and Naslund, continued
Tues, Apr. 13 Melville and Naslund, continued
Thurs, Apr. 15 Melville and Naslund, continued
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.

Weeks Thirteen-Fourteen
Bringing it all together: telling each other new stories
Tues, Apr. 20
Thurs, Apr. 22
Tues, Apr. 27
Thurs, Apr. 29

Finals Week:
Mon, May 10 Paper #4 due:
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.

Course Requirements:
  • Regular Class Attendance and Participation in Discussion
  • Weekly paragraph-long web postings
  • 4 papers (also to be made publicly available on the web)
  • 3 writing conferences with your instructor

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