A woman pregnant with her grandchild; a hamster in a state of suspended animation; human cells reproducing into eternity. These are some of the biotechnological innovations that seemed to blur the line between science and science fiction in the decades following the Second World War. Public accounts of these innovations emerged against the backdrop of debates in social and political thought surrounding the atrocities of two global conflagrations and, more broadly, colonialism. Legal cases and policy debates, the mainstream media and popular fiction and film all attest to the convergence of scientific innovation and geopolitical transformation in new accounts of the human—and of life itself—in the decades following the war. Questions abounded: if we can create life in a laboratory and patent it in the courts, what will happen to the basic dignity of humankind? What will happen to human relationships to other humans and to the world at large? Such questions circulated through the courts and the media, but it was in the science fictional scenarios that writers could work through the dangers and possibilities, the hopes and fears, associated with the science and register as well the emergence of new histories--scientific creation stories--for humanity in the age of biotechnology. This talk draws on the legal cases and policy debates, news accounts and especially science fiction—with a focus on Ridley Scott’s cinematic adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: the 1982 cult classic Bladerunner--to chronicle the scientific creation stories that emerged to explain the radically changing figure of the human, to forecast its destiny, and to create by imagining a biotechnological world.
Priscilla Wald teaches and works on U.S. literature and culture as Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Duke University. Her current work focuses on the intersections among the law, literature, science, and medicine. Her recent book, Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative, studies the evolution of the contemporary stories we tell about the global health problem of "emerging infections." She is currently at work on a book-length study entitled Human Being After Genocide, which chronicles the challenge to conceptions of human being that emerged from scientific and technological innovation in the wake of the Second World War. She is especially interested in analyzing how the language, narratives and images in mainstream media promote a particular understanding of genomic science that is steeped in (often misleading) cultural biases and assumptions. She is committed to promoting conversations among scholars from science, medicine, law and cultural studies in order to facilitate a richer understanding of these issues. Wald is the author of Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form (Duke, 1995). Dr. Wald has served on the Executive Council of the Modern Language Association (MLA) and is currently the MLA representative to the American Council of Learned Societies; she recently completed a term as President of the American Studies Association. She has a secondary appointment in Women's Studies, is on the steering committee of ISIS (Information Sciences + Information Studies) and is a member of the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy and an affiliate of the Trent Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities and the Institute for Global Health.
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For its annual speaker series in 2014-2015, UF’s Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere (CHPS) at the University of Florida has organized a nine-month speaker series that will explore the changing workplace from the perspective of several humanities disciplines. As these presentations will demonstrate, an active engagement in the disciplines of the humanities not only allows us to understand and adapt to those changes; it offers a way to initiate them. In addition to the labor that we do for compensation, the humanities can inform the way that we “work” at life. Those disciplines enhance our understanding and appreciation for what it means to be human in a world that is becoming more and more digitalized every day. And we should work at that task hardest.
This series is made possible by the Rothman Endowment and Yavitz Fund at the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with co-sponsorship from the UF Informatics Institute, Smathers Libraries, Honors Program, College of Public Health and Health Professions, Department of Political Science, Department of English and Phillip Wegner (Marston-Milbauer Eminent Scholar Chair), Department of Philosophy, Department of Classics, Elizabeth B. and William F. Poe Center for Business Ethics Education and Research, Pamela Gilbert (Albert Brick Professor), Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research, UF Research Computing, and the Bob Graham Center for Public Service.
For an overview of The Work of the Humanities series, click here.
Past lectures can be viewed online here.
Center for the Humanities
and the Public Sphere
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
200 Walker Hall
P.O. Box 118030
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611