Dinosaurs are a relatively recent species: they hit the scene only in 1842, when British paleontologist Richard Owen coined that name as an umbrella to bring together a group of mysterious fossil findings that could not be assigned to any known animal species. The dinomania that soon hit Victorian Britain, culminating in the 1852 construction of a full fledged dinosaur park around the Crystal Palace, was only the first in a series of dinosaur booms in Western culture up to our own immediate present. The dinosaur, writes cultural theorist W.J.T. Mitchell, is much more important as a cultural object than as a scientific entity: it “changes its appearance and meaning in relation to transformations in modern political economies and to changes in scientific and technological paradigms”. As we will see in the course of the semester, the icon of the dinosaur often serves as a collective symbol through which the problem of progress and modernity is negotiated. 

Guided mainly by fiction, we will in our seminar reconstruct a couple of crucial transformations that the dinosaur as a cultural icon has undergone. Our corpus will range from extracts of the first (long forgotten) novels with dinosaurs in them to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, from Conan Doyle’s The Lost World to its postcolonial rewriting in Mahasweta Devi’s haunting story of the inexplicable appearance of a pterodactyl in the hinterlands of central India.