Science Fiction Studies

#70 = Volume 23, Part 3 = November 1996

Science Fiction in Academe

ENG 210 Studies in Popular Literature (3; maximum 6) Study of individual works or types of literature outside traditional academic areas of interest that have demonstrated popular appeal, with emphasis on what such literature reveals about the culture that consumes it. May be repeated once when topic changes. Does not count toward the English major. (Miami Bulletin [Miami University, Oxford, Ohio], General Edition 1994-96, p. 184)

Aristocracy, upper middle class, lower middle class, lower class; warriors and priests, merchants and shopkeepers, servants and laborers. There was a time when warrior-aristocrats disdained education for themselves (other than training to arms), though valuing such educated men as could be of service to them, men who in their turn were proud not to be "ignorant as a lord," though happy to enjoy the advantages brought them by their association with, and de facto membership in, the ruling class. Since time immemorial, higher education has always been either a means of entering the higher classes or an embellishment for those born to wealth and power.

Quality, slick, pulp—terms I learned in high-school English. It was only later that I learned that the term "quality magazine" originated not out of respect for the intellectual level of The Atlantic, The Century, Scribner's, and Harper's, but as a short form of "magazines for people of quality." The big slicks—The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, The American, Cosmopolitan— were the magazines of the great American middle class, respectable enough in that they represented, if not prosperity plus cultural refinement, at least prosperity and good behavior. And then there were the pulps, with their garish covers, cheap paper, and correspondence-school advertising, obviously attractive only to lower-class readers of little education and low-brow tastes and obviously fit only to be ignored by educated readers. You studied English, first of all, to learn to speak and write correctly—that is, so that your speech and writing would not mark you as at best uneducated, at worst as of lower-class origin. You studied literature to achieve cultural refinement, to be counted among those who read The Atlantic rather than The Saturday Evening Post and so among those who had risen above the crass materialism of ordinary people. Of course, neither you nor your teachers put such motives into words: the coupling of culture and wealth, or at least of culture and prosperity, went unchallenged, unexamined except by highbrows, ridiculous people pretending to be superior to and disdainful of the culture of cultured people.

The entrance of science-fiction courses into the curriculum in the 1960s was accompanied by a good deal of fanfare. When Mark Hillegas inaugurated his course at Colgate, "the English department was not wildly enthusiastic; but the Administration was happy because the course attracted publicity in the form of newspaper articles across the country, including The New York Times and The National Observer."1 When my own course began in 1969 I received a visit from a reporter that resulted in a full-page gee-whiz story in The Terre Haute Tribune, and between 1962 and 1969 there had been similar stories in numerous newspapers in various parts of the country. The fanfare arose first from astonishment that colleges would teach pulp fiction and then from the general acceptance of the argument that a number of works in the literary canon (works included in the reading list for the course) could be classified as science fiction and that much present-day science fiction, even though originally published in pulp-paper magazines, was much more serious than the generality of popular fiction. The courses were seen by the reporters and their readers as making a kind of breakthrough, as breeching the walls of the literary establishment so that worthwhile books different from those students had been restricted to could be studied. In sum, this was progress. (On the other hand there were and are those for whom science fiction is fiction to be studied with emphasis on what it reveals about the culture that consumes it.)

SCIENCE-FICTION STUDIES grants that supernatural and mythological fantasy, which it considers irrational fantasy, has much in common with the rational fantasy of science fiction, and it regards utopian fiction as rational fantasy and so a subgenre of science fiction.2 The annotated list of courses featured in this special issue therefore includes courses in which the subject matter is labeled utopia or fantasy as well as those in which it is labeled science fiction.

It occurred to me, while preparing this special issue, that courses labeled utopia might well, if only because no one would think of utopian fiction as pulp fiction, have quietly entered the curriculum at various colleges even before the fanfare of 1962. Not knowing whether or not this was true, I wrote to Arthur O. Lewis, Associate Dean Emeritus of the College of the Liberal Arts, Pennsylvania State University, who in 1976 compiled and distributed the Directory of Utopian Scholars,3 to ask what he could tell me on the matter. Dean Lewis replied as follows:

In trying to uncover something other than the little I remembered, I was not very successful. A few requests to nearby friends and a call for help on UTOPIA-L netted only one name I did not already have. Part of the problem is that most of those who were teaching in those days are now retired and usually not on e-mail, a situation that slows communications down. Here is my very sketchy information: before 1970, probables at Queens, Duke, Dickinson, and Portland State; definite at Minnesota and Penn State (2). Details follow:

I am reasonably certain that Max Patrick, English, then at Queens, Glenn Negley, Philosophy, Duke, were teaching utopian courses probably before 1960, and I am almost as certain that Joseph Schiffman, English/American Studies, Dickinson, and Judah Bierman, English, Portland State, were too. I know that Roy Swanson, Classics?, and Mulford Sibley, Political Science/American Studies, Minnesota, jointly taught at least one Political Science graduate course in the 1960s and possibly before. I know that Neal Riemer, Political Science, Penn State, was teaching a junior-senior utopian studies course in Political Science in the 1950s and that the department was not enthusiastic about it. I know that I taught a graduate level Comparative Literature course in winter term, beginning in January 1962; it was in Comparative Literature because my own department, English, wouldn't allow it. After I became an administrator, Charles W. Mann, English/Librarian, continued to teach the course and does so regularly to this day.

In the late 70s and early 80s—unimportant because by then there were dozens of utopian courses all over the country in several disciplines—when I insisted on doing at least some teaching, I taught a junior-senior course in an interdisciplinary Liberal Arts series administered by my own office. (Incidentally, that is the same series in which we had to offer Phil Klass's Science Fiction course until the English Department caught on to the advantage of the large number of credit hours he was bringing in.)

It is worth noting that in most English Departments some utopian writers were part of usual English and American literature courses, e.g., More, Bacon, Swift, Bellamy, Wells, Huxley, though usually not all in the same course, and Plato and others show up in Political Science, Philosophy, and Humanities courses.

Although the evidence Dean Lewis presents is, as he says, rather sketchy, it confirms my hunch sufficiently for us to suppose that the entrance of utopian courses into the curriculum (which met with some opposition but did not stir up as much controversy as that of science-fiction courses) eased the way for science-fiction courses.

Sam Moskowitz of course deserves the credit for teaching the first college-level course in science fiction, but it should be noted that this was an extension course carrying no credit toward a degree and with the primary purpose of introducing students to the world of science-fiction professionals. Mark Hillegas established the first regularly scheduled, credit-carrying course at Colgate in 1962. In the same year Arthur Lewis at Penn State, as noted above, taught a course in utopias and Bruce Franklin at Stanford taught science fiction as the topic of a topics course which not long after became a regularly scheduled science-fiction course. Jack Williamson inaugurated his course at Eastern New Mexico in 1964. Tom Clareson's course at Wooster began in the Spring 1969 term.

The four notes that follow have been abstracted from syllabi distributed to students in the 1960s and have been shaped to resemble the entries in the annotated list of present-day courses featured in this special issue of SFS:

New York. Colgate University, Hamilton

English 303: Science Fiction (Fall 1963 syllabus). Representative works in science fiction from 1888 to the present. TEXTS: Wells, The Time Machine, The Island of Dr Moreau, The Invisible Man/The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon; Bellamy, Looking Backward; Stapledon, Star Maker; Skinner, Walden Two; Dostoyevsky, "The Grand Inquisitor"; Forster, "The Machine Stops"; Zamyatin, We; Huxley, Brave New World; Čapek, War with the Newts; Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four; Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength; Golding, Lord of the Flies; Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz.—Mark R. Hillegas, now retired from Southern Illinois University.

Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania State University, University Park

Comparative Literature 500. Utopian Fiction (Winter 1962 syllabus). A survey of utopian fiction from Plato to the present time. TEXTS: Bellamy, Looking Backward; Holberg, Journey of Nils Klim to the World Underground; Huxley, Brave New World; Orwell, 1984; Plato, The Republic; Skinner, Walden Two; White, ed., Famous Utopias of the Renaissance (More, Campanella, Bacon); Zamiatin, We.—Arthur O. Lewis, now retired.

California. Stanford University, Stanford

English 196: Science Fiction (Spring 1962). A survey of science fiction from Swift to the present. ASSIGNED READING: Swift, Gulliver's Travels; Shelley, Frankenstein; Poe, selected stories; Hawthorne, selected stories; Bellamy, Looking Backward; Vidal, Messiah. One of the following dystopias: Huxley, Brave New World; Orwell, 1984; Zamyatin, We; Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451; Sheckley, The Status Civilization; Pohl & Kornbluth, The Space Merchants. One of the following: Brown, Wieland; Holmes, Elsie Venner; Asimov, Foundation; Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles; de Camp, Lest Darkness Fall; Sturgeon, More Than Human; Tucker, The Long Loud Silence; Heinlein, Beyond This Horizon; Siodmak, Donovan's Brain. One of the following: Healey, ed., New Tales of Space and Time; Conklin, ed., Science Fiction Omnibus; or another good anthology of science fiction stories.—H. Bruce Franklin, now John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies at Rutgers, Newark.

Indiana State University, Terre Haute

English 335: Science Fiction (Fall 1969). A survey of science fiction in English from Thomas More to Robert A. Heinlein, with consideration of the historical contexts in science and politics. One purpose in the course is to distinguish between serious fiction and the sentimental melodrama of most popular fiction. TEXTS: Burroughs, A Princess of Mars; Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet; More, Utopia (in translation); Bacon, New Atlantis; Swift, Gulliver's Travels; Shelley, Frankenstein; Wells, The Time Machine, When the Sleeper Wakes; Stapledon, Odd John; Huxley, Brave New World; Orwell, 1984; Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz; Clarke, Childhood's End; Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.—R.D. Mullen, now retired.

We may sum up this little history by saying that a few utopian courses were taught before 1962, that sf courses began in 1962, and that both spread gradually in the 1960s and rapidly in the 1970s.

The credit for originating this special issue belongs to my co-editor, Arthur B. Evans. I was at first dubious about its feasibility, but was eventually persuaded that it would be worth the labor involved in producing it. We are grateful to all those who submitted course descriptions and/or essays on the teaching of science fiction, utopian literature, and fantasy, with special thanks to those who assisted in the gathering of the course descriptions. Most of the latter are named in the listing itself; among those not so named are Lyman Tower Sargent, editor of Utopian Studies, and Colleen Stumbaugh, moderator of the SF-LIT on-line discussion group. —RDM.


1. Mark Hillegas, "The Course in Science Fiction: A Hope Deferred," Extrapolation 9:18, May 1968. This article is concerned primarily with the opposition in English departments to science-fiction courses, and so is pessimistic about the possibility of sf courses ever being common in English departments.

2. Utopian courses sometimes emphasize the history and sociology of utopian communities rather than utopian fiction per se, but we feel that their relationship to science fiction is still close enough to warrant including them in our list. We should perhaps also add here that most utopian courses include at least some works from the present-day commercial category known as science fiction.

3. The first edition of the Directory listed 107 scholars; the fifth edition, which will be published in Utopian Studies, perhaps in the Fall 1996 issue, will list about 900.

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