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Durham University

Faculty Handbook Archive

Archive Module Description

This page is for the academic year 2019-20. The current handbook year is 2022-23

Department: English Studies

ENGL3731: Paradise Lost as Science Fiction

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2019/20 Module Cap 20 Location Durham


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • to undertake an extensively contextualized close reading of John Milton’s Paradise Lost as a work of early modern ‘science fiction’—both in the narrow sense, as one of the major precursors of and influences on later developments in the genre, and in a broader sense, as an imaginative expression of what its author would have understood as his ‘scientific’ understanding of the world
  • to situate Paradise Lost against Milton’s other literary and non-literary work as well as a wider early modern background, documented from a range of literary and intellectual—philosophical, theological, (proto)scientific, historical—sources
  • to engage in a complementary, ‘reverse-historicist’ encounter with the work: to identify the unconscious assumptions that we, as readers of the twenty-first century, with imaginations shaped by modern science and space exploration, bring to this poem, and to scrutinize these assumptions in an effort to recapture both the historical originality of its vision and its immense interest for the contemporary reader


  • John Milton’s Paradise Lost, read in its entirety, with a particular focus on the poem’s most strikingly ‘science-fictional’ elements: its radically material universe, with its various domains and features; its heretical, anti-trinitarian deity; its metabolizing, shape-shifting, deep-space-traveling angels and devils; its theanthropomorphic humans; its anti-allegories of Sin and Death and the Pavilion of Chaos
  • selections from Milton’s other literary and non-literary writings, notably the relevant portions of his theological treatise, De doctrina Christiana, containing the key evidence for Milton’s adherence to a number of heterodox philosophical and theological doctrines which inform the poem
  • selections from a wide range of non-Miltonic sources: elements of classical and biblical tradition; contemporary analogues such as Samuel Pordage’s Mundorum explicatio (1661) or Lucy Hutchinson’s Order and Disorder (1679); aspects of early modern theology and religious controversy, biblical hermeneutics, history, natural philosophy, astronomy; and the history of the poem’s reception from the paratextual apparatus of its first edition (1667) to the present day
  • selections from textual and visual materials relating to the history of astronomy, aviation, and space exploration, and from works of modern and contemporary science fiction

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • in-depth knowledge of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, a major work whose influence extends throughout the English literary tradition and beyond
  • greater understanding of the poem’s place in the Miltonic canon as well as the broader seventeenth-century context, and the history of its reception from its beginnings to the present day
  • greater understanding of a number of important domains and topics in early modern literary and intellectual history
  • greater understanding of the dynamics of reception and canon formation, and the influence of a canonical text on literary-historical as well as broader cultural developments
  • greater understanding of the role played by the contemporary reader’s experiences and assumptions when approaching texts from significantly earlier periods of literary history, with particular reference to the contemporary reader’s experience of modern science and technology
Subject-specific Skills:
  • critical skills in the close reading and analysis of literary as well as relevant non-literary (e.g. philosophical, theological, historical) texts
  • an ability to demonstrate knowledge of a range of texts, contexts, and critical approaches
  • informed awareness of formal and aesthetic dimensions of literature and ability to offer cogent analysis of their workings in specific texts
  • sensitivity to generic conventions and to the shaping effects on communication of historical circumstances, and to the affective power of language
  • an ability to articulate and substantiate an imaginative response to literature
  • an ability to articulate knowledge and understanding of concepts and theories relating to literary studies
  • skills of effective communication and argument
  • awareness of conventions of scholarly presentation, and bibliographic skills including accurate citation of sources and consistent use of scholarly conventions of presentation
  • command of a broad range of vocabulary and an appropriate critical terminology
  • awareness of literature as a medium through which values are affirmed and debated
Key Skills:
  • a capacity for critical analysis
  • an ability to acquire complex information of diverse kinds in a structured and systematic way involving the use of distinctive interpretative skills derived from the subject
  • competence in the planning and execution of essays
  • a capacity for independent thought and judgement, and ability to assess the critical ideas of others
  • skills in critical reasoning
  • an ability to handle information and argument in a critical manner
  • information-technology skills such as word-processing and electronic data access information
  • personal organization and time-management skills

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • seminars: encourage peer-group discussion, enable students to develop critical skills in the close reading and analysis of texts, and skills of effective communication and presentation; promote awareness of diversity of interpretation and methodology
  • consultation session: encourages students to reflect critically and independently on their work
  • independent but directed reading in preparation for seminars provides opportunity for students to enrich subject-specific knowledge and enhances their ability to develop appropriate subject-specific skills
  • typically, directed learning may include assigning student(s) an issue, theme, or topic that can be independently or collectively explored within a framework and/or with additional materials provided by the tutor; this may function as preparatory work for presenting their ideas or findings (sometimes electronically) to their peers and tutor in the context of a seminar
  • coursework: tests the student’s ability to argue, respond, and interpret, and to demonstrate subject-specific knowledge and skills such as appreciation of the power of imagination in literary creation and the close reading and analysis of texts; they also test the ability to present word-processed work, observing scholarly conventions
  • feedback: the written feedback that is provided after the first assessed essay allows students to reflect on examiners’ comments, giving students the opportunity to improve their work for the second essay

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 10 Fortnightly 2 hours 20
Independent student research supervised by the Module Convenor 10
Consultation 1 15 minutes 0.25
Preparation and Reading 169.75
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Assignment 1 3,000 words 50%
Assignment 2 3,000 words 50%

Formative Assessment:

Before the first assessed essay, students have an individual 15-minute consultation session, in which they are permitted to show their seminar leader a sheet of points relevant to the essay and to receive oral comment on these points. Students may also, if they wish, discuss their ideas for the second essay at this meeting.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University