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Posthumanism: Alien Bodies, Cyborgs and Artificial Intelligence in American Literature and Film


Admission requirements

This course is part of the MA North American Studies and the (Res)MA Literary Studies. It is not accessible for BA students.


In How We Became Posthuman, N. Katherine Hayles argues that the “dream” of leaving our bodies with the aid of digital technology is for her a “nightmare,” and she defends a “posthuman” rather than “transhuman” worldview that still recognizes the importance of embodiment, materiality, and affect in the computational age. Following Hayles this course traces three themes in postwar United States cultural history: “how information lost its body,” “how the cyborg was created as a technological artifact and cultural icon,” and “how a historically specific construction called the human is giving way to a different construction called the posthuman” (2). Using science fiction novels and films, scholarship in science and technology studies, and recent philosophy that challenges the primacy of the liberal human subject, this course will follow how the legacies of American exceptionalism, cybernetics, the Cold War, the Space Race, the environmental movement, intersectional activism, and globalization are shaped and reflected in narratives about cyborgs, space men, and artificially intelligent systems. Students will also explore new approaches to design thinking in the digital humanities in the context of collaborative, project-based learning.

Course objectives

This course aims to:

  • refine students’ analytical and critical skills through in-depth reading of literary texts and films in their historical and cultural contexts;

  • introduce students to theoretical concepts in cybernetics, science and technology studies, and human-computer interaction;

  • develop critical understanding of the role of gender, race, sexuality, ability, and class during the period of U.S. space exploration;

  • develop students’ skills to conduct independent research;

  • develop students’ oral presentation and academic writing skills in digital formats;

  • develop students’ abilities to design a database for a digital humanities project, curate materials with web-based annotation tools, and organize the elements of a scholarly hypertext.


See timetable.

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total course load is 10 ec x 28 hours = 280 hours:

  • hours spent on attending seminars: 40 hours;

  • time for studying the required literature and film screenings: 120 hours;

  • time to prepare presentation and write a research proposal and essay (including research): 120 hours.

Assessment method

  • oral presentation (20%);

  • participation (10%);

  • critical making design prototype (10%);

  • research essay on Scalar* digital humanities platform 4000-4500 words (60%).


The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


If the final grade is insufficient, only the research essay can be rewritten.


Blackboard will be used for specific information about (components of) the course, such as links to recommended critical and theoretical articles, websites, discussion questions, presentation and essay topics, and academic writing materials.

Reading list

  • Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman (University of Chicago Press);

  • Nicholas De Monchaux, Spacesuit (MIT Press);

  • Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles (Simon and Schuster);

  • Octavia Butler, The Parable of the Sower (Grand Central);

  • Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Del Rey);

  • Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology (University of Minnesota Press);

  • Eugene Thacker, In the Dust of this Planet (Zone Books);

  • DVD Invasion of the Body Snatchers, dir. Don Siegel;

  • DVD Her, dir. Spike Jonze;

  • DVD The Martian, dir. Ridley Scott;

  • DVD Blade Runner, dir. Ridley Scott;

  • DVD Ex Machina, dir. Alex Garland;

  • DVD Sleep Dealer, dir. Alex Rivera.


Via uSis.

Registration Studeren à la carte

Not applicable.


*Scalar is a free, open source digital humanities publishing platform that is designed to make it easy for authors to write long-form, born-digital scholarship online that uses a simple blogging interface familiar to WordPress users. Scalar enables authors to assemble media from multiple sources — including primary and secondary sources from participating online archives — and juxtapose these materials with their own writing in a variety of ways. Scalar also gives authors tools to structure essay- and book-length works in ways that take advantage of the unique capabilities of digital writing, including nested, recursive, and non-linear formats. The platform also supports collaborative authoring, reader commentary, maps, timelines, image galleries, video annotation, and information visualization. It has been used in a range of authoring situations from undergraduate student projects to peer-reviewed articles in the journal Vectors.


Mw. Dr. J.C. (Joke) Kardux