New Course: Utopia/Dystopia and the History of Science


The College of Arts and Sciences is excited to offer three new online, interdisciplinary courses in Summer 2021.  Faculty from across the College have teamed up to create courses in which students will explore pressing intellectual questions from new perspectives.  

The course Utopia, Dystopia, and Scientific Modernity, Sixteenth-Century-Present (HSTY/ENGL 145) brings together two disciplines: English and History.  In an effort to show students that science and literature are part of a similar conversation of reimagining the world, Aviva Rothman, assistant professor in the Department of History, and Maggie Vinter, associate professor in the Department of English, will explore utopian and dystopian works of fiction and connect them to themes that run through the history of science. Starting with the Scientific Revolution of the 1600s, students will uncover the relationship between knowledge and power; the impact of new technologies; the voyages of exploration and exploitation; industrialization and forms of production; ideas of gender, race and class, nuclear power, genetics and climate change within books ranging from Thomas More’s Utopia to Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower and a contemporary film.

“Putting literature and history together is powerful because the ambiguity of literature helps students to see the complexity of the past. Novels and plays don’t reflect a single, dogmatic opinion that everyone shared. Instead, they often dramatize the debates people held over ideas like the proper role for science in politics, or the nature of the universe,” Vinter explained.

Rothman explains that the course focuses on imagined worlds while highlighting the real worlds from which they emerged. In fact, around the time this course begins, scientists talked about their discoveries as new worlds, from the lands encountered by Europeans on their voyages to the heavenly objects revealed by the telescope and the smaller ones discovered with the microscope. 

“The new experimental tradition of the seventeenth century, likewise, showed how we might remake our own world by harnessing science as a source of power,” Rothman explained.

Rothman and Vinter are looking forward to learning from each other through their cross-disciplinary conversations that, in turn, will be a great learning experience for students as well.

“The best classes are the ones that change the way you see the world, and this class has that potential,” Rothman said.

Students who have questions about the course should contact Dr. Vinter at or Dr. Rothman at 



  • Summer 2021 courses will be viewable in SIS starting March 1
  • Students can begin adding courses to shopping carts on March 1
  • Graduate registration begins March 22
  • Undergraduate registration opens April 12
  • Non-degree and visiting students can register starting April 13

Visit or email for more information.