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University College for Interdisciplinary Learning

In Frankenstein's Footsteps: Science Fiction in Literature and Film

Course Unit Code

UCIL20301 (10 credits)

UCIL20801 (20 credits)

Course Unit Details

  • Level 2
  • Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine


Do scientists play God? Will machines rise up and enslave us? Is it humankind's destiny to travel among the stars, or should we worry more about preserving the Earth? Does the rapid pace of scientific and technological change point towards a future paradise or a living hell? Or just a different kind of "normal"?

These are questions which authors and film-makers have long explored through fiction, for a wide variety of reasons: to make money by providing popular entertainment; to explore philosophical questions about the nature of humanity, technology or civilisation; to promote possible future projects in real life, or to warn of emerging dangers; to comment on the politics, social issues and cultural assumptions of their own times.

This unit uses science fiction literature and film from the nineteenth century to the present day to explore the changing place of science in the cultural imagination. We ask how science fiction has revealed and sometimes changed public dreams and anxieties around technology, the power of science, the future of our earth, and what it means to be human.


Through a selection of classic science-fiction films, novels and stories from the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the unit explores how popular culture responds to developments in real-world science and technology, and how creative artists use imagined science and technology as a tool for real-world commentary.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, you will be able to:

  • Examine the historical development of approaches to science, technology and medicine in literature and film
  • Understand science fiction's role in shaping the cultural meanings of science, technology and medicine
  • Analyse science fiction as a genre
  • Understand how scientific images and knowledge are constructed, interpreted, and transformed for and by science fiction
  • Produce an essay delivering a focused argument relevant to the course unit themes
  • Understand how scientific images and knowledge are constructed, interpreted, and transformed for a range of audiences

In addition, for the 20 credit version only (UCIL20801):

  • Identify a topic for a research project and produce a critical essay or alternative submission (short documentary, online resource, etc) based on primary and secondary source material


The exact course content may vary, depending on staff availability and recent developments in the field, but a typical weekly schedule runs as follows:

  • Introduction
  • Creating a monster? Frankenstein and its legacy
  • Professionals and amateurs: science fiction in the late nineteenth century
  • Nuclear fear: hell-bombs and last survivors
  • Anxiety in the UK: decline and invasion fears in national context
  • From robots to replicants
  • Reimagining gender and sexuality
  • Cyberpunk and virtual worlds
  • Going viral: infection fears and medical speculative fiction
  • Wider worlds: diversifying sci-fi
  • After the flood: climate fiction and environmental crisis

Each week's material will be covered both through lecture-style presentation and group seminar discussion.


10 Credits

  1. Source analysis, 1500 words (50%)
  2. Essay, 1500 words (50%)

20 Credits

  1. Source analysis, 1500 words (25%)
  2. Essay, 1500 words (25%)
  3. Research Project, 3000 words or equivalent (50%)


UCIL units are designed to be accessible to undergraduate students from all disciplines.

UCIL units are credit-bearing and it is not possible to audit UCIL units or take them for additional/extra credits. You must enrol following the standard procedure for your School when adding units outside of your home School.

If you are not sure if you are able to enrol on UCIL units you should contact your School Undergraduate office. You may wish to contact your programme director if your programme does not currently allow you to take a UCIL unit.

You can also contact the UCIL office if you have any questions.

This unit is also available with a different course unit code. To take a UCIL unit you must choose the unit with a UCIL prefix.

Teaching Staff

Dr James Sumner (unit lecturer) and graduate teaching assistants

Teaching and Learning Methods

Each week's teaching will include two main elements:

1. Around one hour of video from the course unit lecturer.This will be pre-recorded for you to view at your own convenience. We use this format because much of the course content is based on film, TV and online sources: the videos will feature clips of source material, and pointers to resources for independent study, alongside analytical commentary. Each week's videos will also introduce the required reading or viewing, and introduce the wider course unit themes it relates to.

2. A 50-minute discussion seminar hosted by the unit lecturer or GTA. Each seminar will be themed around the week's required reading or viewing, and will build on the ideas presented in the video through general discussion and group activities and offer a chance to raise questions. Seminar groups will meet face-to-face on campus.

There will also be an online discussion forum, and various materials for independent study available through Blackboard. The unit lecturer offers a weekly on-campus office hour for drop-in meetings, and bookable Zoom appointments at various times through the week for advice on coursework and other questions.

The 20-credit version of the unit has all the teaching of the 10-credit version plus extra one-to-one guidance around the 3000-word project, which students devise themselves under supervision, and which should take up half the time allocation for the unit.


You get a chance to do something different from your degree program. This is especially true if you're in science as you learn to approach every topic from the Humanities perspective. Of course if you're like me and love sci-fi, you should definitely take it!Lourdes Villegas Garcia, Neuroscience

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