Sherlock, Science and Ratiocination

Sherlock, Science and Ratiocination

Original illustration by Elia Fernández, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

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Taught by Dr. Amy H. Sturgis

The intellectual sibling of science fiction, born of the same parents (the Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolution), is what its father, Edgar Allan Poe, called “tales of ratiocination.” Poe created the first scientific detective, C. Auguste Dupin, who in turn paved the way for one of the most enduring and beloved literary characters of all time, Sherlock Holmes. This course focuses on Poe and Conan Doyle and how their works blended scientific method, mystery, and imagination to create the modern literature of detection. Students will consider why Sherlock Holmes remains an often revisited and reinterpreted character with remarkable resonance in our own time, and how the genre he helped to create and the literary descendants he inspired continue to question the idea of order in our universe and how we know what we (think we) know.

Sherlock, Science and Ratiocination will meet Tuesday and Friday (primary lecture and closing session) from 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm (UTC-5)


Week 1 (August 26-30):
Edgar Allan Poe Poe, Early Detectives, and Ratiocination
“Appendix: The Earliest Detectives: Zadig, Vidocq, and Jimmy Buckhorn” by
Various Authors and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe
both in The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales

Week 2 (September 2-6):
The Return of Dupin, Fiction’s First Detective
“The Mystery of Marie Roget” and “The Purloined Letter” by Edgar Allan Poe

Week 3 (September 9-13):
Wilkie Collins and the New Detective Novel
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, Prologue through First Narrative

Week 4 (September 16-20):
Collins, Fact, and Forensic Science
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, Second Narrative through Epilogue

Week 5 (September 23-27):
Arthur Conan Doyle, the Great Detective, and the Art of Deduction
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

Week 6 (September 30-October 4):
“You Know My Methods”
The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

Week 7 (October 7-11):
“The Observation of Trifles”
“The Boscombe Valley Mystery,” “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” and
“Silver Blaze” by Arthur Conan Doyle

Week 8 (October 14-18):
“To the Logician All Things Should Be Seen”
“The Adventure of the Gloria Scott,” “The Adventure of the Musgrave
Ritual,” “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter,” and “The Final Problem”
by Arthur Conan Doyle

Week 9 (October 21-25):
“The Scientific Use of the Imagination”
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

Week 10 (October 28-November 1):
“What One Man Can Invent”
“The Adventure of the Empty House,” “The Adventure of the Norwood
Builder,” “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” and “The Adventure of the
Six Napoleons” by Arthur Conan Doyle

Week 11 (November 4-8):
“Exhaust All Natural Explanations”
“The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” “The Adventure of the
Devil’s Foot,” and “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire” by Arthur Conan

Week 12 (November 11-15):
Sherlock, Science, and Ratiocination in the 21st Century
“A Study in Pink,” “The Blind Banker,” and “The Great Game,” Sherlock (DVD)


* required edition – appendix will be assigned reading
+ strongly suggested edition