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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

From Frankenstein to The Matrix: science fiction and film

HSTM20302 (10-credit); HSTM20802 (20-credit)

Semester Two, Fridays, 11.00-13.00

Contact: Dr David Kirby

Frankenstein's monster


To explore through literature and film the ways that ordinary people have reacted to developments in science and technology, and their fears as well as hopes for the future. This course takes a selection of classic texts and films from the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries to see what continuities and differences there have been in the public imagination of science and technology over this period.

Intended Learning Outcomes

  • to develop the ability to take historical approaches to science, technology & medicine in literature & film
  • to understand Science Fiction as a genre
  • to demonstrate knowledge of the chronology of changes in popular responses to science, technology and medicine over the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries
  • to enhance critical thinking skills through an exploration of debates about the relationship between literature & science
  • to take part in informed discussions of these topics and issues
  • to comprehend Science Fiction’s impact on the cultural meanings of science, technology and medicine
  • to improve their science literacy through an understanding of the ways scientific images are constructed, interpreted, and transformed for Science Fiction.

20 credit unit only:

  • to find and research a topic of their own choosing;
  • to find and assess critically primary and secondary sources;
  • to write, with full scholarly apparatus, a report on their individual research project

Lecture Content

Lectures form a connected series of explorations across the history of SF and will include several guest lectures from British SF authors. Lectures will cover the following SF texts:

  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
  • H.G. Wells, The Time Machine
  • Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward and William Cameron Menzies, Things to Come
  • Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
  • Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz
  • Tony Ballyntyne, Twisted Metal
  • Geoff Ryman, Air
  • Andrew Niccol, GATTACA
  • Andy and Larry Wachowski, The Matrix and Ridley Scott, Blade Runner
  • James Cameron, Avatar and Neill Blomkamp, District 9

Seminar Content

Seminars consolidate lecture material through a set of weekly SF readings and media texts.


10 credit unit (HSTM20302) - 1500 word essay (50%); Seminar Responses (50%)
20 credit unit (HSTM20802) - 1500 word essay (25%); Seminar Responses (25%); 3000 word research project based on a case study (50%)


Students may ask questions at any time during lectures and seminars. Teaching staff can usually answer specific queries by email or during office hours, and will provide contact details in the course handbook or at lectures. All submitted coursework will be returned with annotations and an assessment sheet explaining the mark awarded.

Employability Skills

Written communication - All assignments involve written communication. Students have one long essay and three short written pieces.
Group/Team working - Students do group work extensively in seminars.
Innovation/Creativity - Students develop creative skills through some of the assignments where they apply their knowledge of science fiction history to develop a new science fiction story based on an existing movie.
Research - Students undertake research into science fiction topics for their essays.
Analytical skills - The whole point of the course is to develop students analytical and critical thinking skills. They have to critically read science fiction literature and academic texts.
Other - Students develop skills in media literacy.



Recommended Reading

Primary reading is indicated by the 'lecture content'. Critical literature to discuss themes (eg utopias, science and the future, human/machine) is introduced, such as:

  • Haynes R From Faust to Strangelove: Representations of the Scientist in Western Literature 1994 Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Roberts A Science Fiction: The New Critical Idiom 2000 London: Routledge
  • Aldiss B The Billion Year Spree 1973 London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson

Teaching Staff

Dr David Kirby


A recent copy of the course outline is available to view (pdf). Please note that course content may change in the next academic year.