Course Description

In Writing Our Biology, we will consider how our knowledge of biology depends on what we write about science. To test the hypothesis that writers create images of biological “reality” that pass as pure “fact,” we will explore society’s understanding of health by examining the language we use to talk about it.  Since we often assume the study of the human body works towards the goal of healthiness, examining assumptions about what “healthy” means can help us recognize how language shifts and changes our understanding of biology.  In studying how writing shapes what we call “health,” we will examine writing ranging from sports literature to arguments for eugenics.  Some of the questions propelling our reading this semester will include: on which common metaphors and images do writers of biology depend?  How do biology writers change their tone and style to suit different audiences?  What are the motives of the writers we study and what do they tell us about our motives?

Rationale for Sequence of Assignments

The first assignment asks students to develop an argument about historical change, analyzing a contemporary text in light of an historical concept. The second assignment asks students to analyze a novel under a particular critical framework, but complicates that task by requiring students to use that analysis to make an argument about the framework. The third assignment is an annotated bibliography which gives students practice identifying, accessing, and interpreting academic sources. The final assignment builds on the first essay’s use of an historical argument and the second essay’s analysis of an analytic framework. Using more extensive research to analyze more difficult texts, students will weigh in on complex and ethically fraught policy issues surrounding “eugenics” and genetics.

The materials and description for this course were revised in 2012.

Course Documents

Pre-draft Assignments & Activities:

Previous versions of the syllabus (2009):


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