The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories


The Story of Evolution and
The Evolution of Stories:
Exploring the
Significance of Diversity

Go to our on-line discussion board
See our final performances

Welcome to the home page of a Biology and English course
offered @ Bryn Mawr College in Spring 2011
by Anne Dalke and Paul Grobstein, TTh 2:15-3:45, in English House Lecture Hall

In the first month of college, he came across the most beautiful concluding sentence in world lit, words that gave him far more epiphany than any novel. The book itself was a long, hard slog, but oh, that arrival! (Richard Powers, Generosity)

"There is grandeur in this view of life...that...from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." (Charles Darwin, On The Origin of Species)

We will experiment, in this course, with two interrelated and reciprocal inquiries: whether the biological concept of evolution is a useful one in understanding the phenomena of literature (in particular: the generation of new stories), and whether literature contributes to a deeper understanding of evolution. We will begin with an exploration of the basis for the "story" of evolution as developed by biologists, move on to a consideration of the relevance of the concept of evolution for making sense of other bodies of information and observations, and then turn to a consideration of one literary story growing out of another. We will ask repeatedly: Where do stories (scientific and literary) come from? Why do new ones emerge? What causes them to change? Why do (must?) some of them disappear? We will consider the parallels between diversity of stories and diversity of living organisms, and think about what new insights into evolution and literature emerge from such considerations.

This course is predicated on an assumption that progress on the sorts of questions being considered here is significant not only in the classroom but in a broader human context as well. Hence, the course is organized to contribute to public conversation, both by having a weekly on-line forum and by the on-line publication of course materials, including student papers. In considering the appropriateness of the course for their own educational objectives, students should be aware of this assumption and associated arrangements, and of the implications and obligations of engaging in a public arena, where individuals are responsible not only for their own education but that of others as well.


Anne's Talking Notes

Paul's Talking Notes

Webprojects #1, #2, #3, #4

Course Requirements:


  • 1/6: participation in class and on-line conversations
  • 1/6 each: projects # 1, 2, 3
  • 1/3: final project

In this class, we'll be exploring how diversity is fundamental to all levels of organization, in both biological and cultural systems. It will be clear, from that exploration, why we think a single grade will not adequately reflect your various, distinctive efforts in the class; nor do we think it will function as an adequate index to how you may perform in other contexts. We hope you'll regard this score as only one measure of your accomplishments, and take into account your own sense of how what you achieve here relates to your own goals. We're of course happy to discuss all these matters with you in conference.

The images on these pages are reproduced with permission of Rieko Nakamura and Toshihiro Anzai; you can see a complete display of their work at which also explains that "Renga, or Linked Image, is a new methodology of image creation in the digital era. It was given birth at the intersection of art, telecommunication network and multimedia. Renga artists share and exchange computer graphics art works on telecommunication network. An image will turn into a new piece by going through modification and transformation applied by a different artist, thus creating a series of growing imagery."