Core Courses

Science and nature writing courses include an introductory course (ENGL 206) and an intermediate course (ENGL 391).

In recent years, there has been a renaissance of science writing for the common reader that combines literary and scientific merit: from Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" to Oliver Sacks' "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat," from Dava Sobel's "Longitude" to Rebecca Skloot's "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," a series of books that explore scientific questions in a style that transcends the conventions of academic science writing or popular history have brought important questions from physics, biology, chemistry, neuroscience and mathematics to wider public attention.

Short form science journalism has become one of the most important areas of literary nonfiction, recognized both by annual awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and two different series of Best of American Science Writing anthologies. This interdisciplinary science writing course will combine literary analysis of exemplary essays on scientific topics with a writing workshop that requires students to do close observation of scientific processes, conduct independent research and interviews, interpret data and present scientific information in highly readable form.

Weekly readings will be selected from prize-winning science essays and the Best of American Science and Nature Writing series. We may also read one book-length work of science writing. Weekly writing assignments will include journals, observational accounts of science experiments, exercises in interpreting scientific data, interviews, narratives and a substantial research essay. 

Recent special topics courses include:

ENGL 291: Animal Minds

Contemporary studies of cognition across animal taxa have broadened our understanding of how animal minds operate — they’ve also forced us to rethink human exceptionalism — that our own minds are special and apart from those of other animals. One of the great paradoxes in cognition studies is that we cannot really know how other minds operate, despite our best efforts to study them empirically. But, exceptional or not, our minds are well-equipped to imagine other realities, which lets us take off creatively beyond the frontiers of our current scientific understanding of animal minds.

This course in creative writing has only one goal: to tackle “the mind” in its diverse animal (and not-so-animal) forms. We may consider the hive minds of social insects; the collective decision-making of pack vertebrates; tool-using octopodes; nest-weaving birds; the extended sensory networks of spider webs; and even the underground root networks of plants. We might contrast human neurodiversity, early childhood development, memory loss and senescence with the exploding field of artificial intelligence. Our primary texts will be research papers in fields ranging from animal behavior and cognition studies, neurobiology, philosophy, and related studies. We will also read some examples of short fiction or poetry that explore other mindscapes (think science fiction, persona poems, choral narratives, and artificially generated texts). Your writing may straddle genres (fiction, poetry, and nonfiction) and you are encouraged to experiment, using the primary scientific texts and literary pieces as jump-off points to imagine minds unlike your own.

ENGL 291: Making Science and Nature Comics

This creative writing course uses visuals and text in tandem to communicate stories about science and nature. Students will be asked to doodle, draw, diagram, collage, photograph, photoshop, diorama, shadow-puppet, fingerpaint, or otherwise use visuals as a fundamental component of your creative process. Students will also pair your visuals with text, which means you will label, caption, thought-bubble, lyricize, define, describe, recall, recount and narrate with words what you do not express in images. Images and text in conversation come in many forms, ranging from comics and graphic narratives to illustrated guides and technical manuals, to maps, journals, graphs and more. We will use this hybrid medium to explore topics in science and nature writing, including but not limited to describing the form, function, and relationships between living and nonliving systems in interaction, ruminating on our dis/connections with built and natural environments, and rejoicing in the complex beauty of a world that demands multisensory appreciation.

Adding visuals to science and nature writing expands its possibilities because visuals can capture in shorthand the microscopic (think molecules and endoparasites) and macroscopic (think animal migrations and carbon cycles). Visuals can simplify complexity, or amplify signal from noise. Visuals and text in combination offer a multidimensional, non-linear platform for exploring important topics in science and nature “writing,” and their aesthetics can package serious, weighty questions in an approachable format. Our core texts will include "Making Comics," by Lynda Barry, and "Understanding Comics," by Scott McCloud. We will also look at a selection of works by print and webcomics artists, visual poets, natural historians, science illustrators, animators, and documentary filmmakers to consider the possibilities of visual/text hybrids as a narrative form. There are no prerequisites to take this course — to quote Lynda Barry, “You don’t have to have any artistic skill to do this. You just need to be brave and sincere.”

Additional Courses

  • ANTH 150: Science and Pseudoscience
  • ANTH 323: Bioarchaeology of Africa
  • ANTH 421: Neanderthals
  • BIOL 241: Evolution
  • BIOL 243: Animal Physiology
  • BIOL 247: Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy
  • BIOL 261: Animal Behavior
  • BIOL 391: Ornithology
  • CHEM 110: Environmental Chemistry
  • ENGL 103: Science, Fiction and Science Fiction
  • ENGL 103: Waste Lands
  • ENGL 103: Denaturing "Nature"
  • ENGL 103: Health and Healing
  • ENGL 267: Literature, Medicine, and Culture
  • ENGL 265: Plant Poetics
  • ENGL 268: Climate Emergencies
  • ENGL 379: Environmental Regionalism (Literatures of the Mississippi River Valley)
  • ENVS 106: Reading the Ohio Landscape
  • ENVS 231: Earth Systems Science
  • ENVS 342: Disease Ecology
  • HIST 238: The Scientific Revolution and the European Enlightenment
  • INDS 291: ST: Science and Nature Fiction Writing
  • MATH 128: History of Mathematics in the Islamic World
  • NEUR 471: Current Topics in Neuroscience
  • PHIL 245: Philosophy of Natural Sciences
  • PHYS 106: Astronomy – Planets and Moons
  • PHYS 107: Astronomy – Stars and Galaxies

Read more about the academic requirements for science and nature writing in the course catalog.