The Victorian age saw a radical unsettling of the idea of “man” that had been developed as a central element of humanism and Enlightenment philosophy. This occurred perhaps most famously in the development of evolutionary theory (both pre- and post-Darwin) that articulated the human as an evolved and evolving organism, with accordant implications for the status of race, gender, class, urbanization, and empire. However, similar changes are also evident in the increasing importance (and power) of machines (the railroad, steamship, etc.), information technology such as the telegraph, phonograph and telephone, changes in print culture and legal structures, and developments across a range of scientific disciplines from geology and physics to epidemiology and statistics. In the process, the Victorian era offers a means to trace the prehistory of contemporary discussions of posthumanism and theoretical developments in related arenas such as animal studies, ecocriticism, disability studies.
In this course, we will trace these intersections and explore their effect on (and borrowing from) the literature of the period by reading works by authors like Charles Dickens, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and George Eliot alongside excerpts from the writings of Victorian scientists and social theorists like Charles Lyell, Robert Chambers, Charles Darwin, Harriet Martineau, Charles Baggage, Ada Lovelace, John Ruskin, Herbert Spencer, and James Clerk Maxwell. We will juxtapose this material with recent writing on posthumanism by theorists such as Bruno Latour, Michel Serres, and N. Katherine Hayles.