Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
To Boldly Go: Reading Star Trek
Academic Year
Semester 2
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminar 10 x 2 Hour Seminars
Lecture 10 x 1 Hour Lectures


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Essay 1  (2,000 words)  50%
Semester Assessment Essay 2  (2,000 words)  50%
Supplementary Assessment Essay 1  (2,000 words)  50%
Supplementary Assessment Essay 2  (2,000 words)  50%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1 . Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the relationship between science fiction, popular culture, and socio-historical events.

2. Display an awareness of a range of relevant critical and theoretical perspectives.

3. Show a reflective awareness of the ways in which themes and techniques employed in the set texts have informed their own critical practice.

4. Write in a disciplined and cogent manner, making use of appropriate registers and conventions.

Brief description

Encouraging critical reflection on how the definition of ‘literature’ is not limited to the classics or the canon or even to the page, this module will begin with an introduction to the history of the real life Star Trek franchise, before critically “reading” the series through various lenses such as utopian fiction, historical fiction, political fiction, modern mythology, and so on, as well as interrogating how issues of representation and ideology are portrayed across fifty plus years of stories. Participants will be introduced to the cultural significance of, and the narrative strategies employed by, this significant piece of popular culture, and, in the process, study and write critically about key episodes of Star Trek.

Teaching delivery will consist of ten 1-hour lectures and ten 2-hour seminars. Participants will discuss exemplar episodes for each approach and set of episodes under discussio, aiming to learn as much as possible about the narrative and artistic methods in question, as well as engaging with relevant critical approaches and enlarging their understanding of popular culture’s relationship to its socio-historical contexts. Students will refine their own critical approaches throughout the seminar and, in the process, enhance their understanding of popular culture and science fiction as rewarding and legitimate fields of academic study.


Session 1: “A History of the Future”

Introduction to the module and an overview of the Star Trek franchise contextualising it against the key historical events with which it has been in dialogue over the last half century. Students will interrogate preconceptions about the franchise and about science fiction more generally.

Session 2: “Wagon Trail to the Stars…”

Many writers tend to view ‘space, the final frontier’ in the same way that Americans viewed the Old West: territory to be won, civilised, and incorporated into the homeland. Star Trek – being ‘space opera’ to the ‘horse opera’ of Westerns – developed from that tradition. Looking in particular at The Original Series, this session will discuss how the franchise addresses issues of colonialism and the concept of ‘Manifest Destiny’.

Session 3: “Articles of the Federation”

Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) proposed an exemplary society which has inspired science fiction writers for half a millennium. One of the best known examples of utopian SF is Star Trek’s Federation, a post-scarcity society without money or poverty where people work to better themselves. Considering episodes such as ‘Home Front’, ‘Paradise Lost’, and ‘In the Pale Moonlight’, this session will look at how contemporary popular culture treats Thomas More’s ideas.

Session 4: “The Line Must Be Drawn Here!”

The Star Trek franchise takes much of its symbolism from the histories of the American and British navies (Gene Roddenberry himself cited C. S. Forester’s Hornblower novels and stories as an inspiration). Nevertheless, the philosophy of Star Trek is largely resistant to militarism. This session will look at episodes such as ‘The Omega Glory’, ‘The Wounded’, ‘…Nor the Battle to the Strong’, and ‘The Siege of AR-558’ to consider how the franchise portrays, interrogates, and problematises its pacifist position.

Session 5: “Maybe the End Begins with One Boy Putting Down his Gun…”

In contrast to many other science fiction franchises, Star Trek is well known for its ability to pose uncomfortable moral and political questions to its audience. This session, examining episodes such as ‘The High Ground’, ‘Journey’s End’, and ‘Past Tense’, will examine how the franchise has portrayed political terrorism, the ‘assisted’ removal of populations, and the ever increasing levels of poverty and inequality in American society.

Session 6: “Baryons and Chronitons and Tachyons, Oh My!”

Sometimes called ‘the father of science fiction’, editor Hugo Gernsback defined the genre in the 1920s and 30s as one part childish “Gosh, wow!”, one part Popular Mechanics. Though SF has since shed the simplicity of those early stories, a strain of Gernsback’s ‘animated catalogue of gadgets’ still persists, and Star Trek is no exception. This session will look at the franchise’s love of so-called ‘technobabble’, the jargon’s development over fifty years, its (in)consistency, and how writers use it as a storytelling tool.

Sessions 7: “I Recognise the Traditional Accoutrements...”

This session will read Star Trek as historical fiction in two ways. First, we will examine the rhetorical similarities between science fiction and historical fiction and how the franchise utilises these techniques to offer a coherent future timeline that builds upon its own past developments. Second, we will look at time travel episodes (such as ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’ and ‘Little Green Men’) which, in the spirit of the best historical fiction, construct their stories by “filling the gaps” in our accepted historical narrative.

Session 8: ‘These are the Voyages…’

Over fifty-plus years, Star Trek has had the opportunity to tell hundreds of stories. Many stand out for their intriguing narrative strategies, their effective use of showing-and-telling, and their self-reflexive relationship with the franchise and the genre more generally. This session will look at episodes such as ‘The Inner Light’, ‘The Visitor’, and ‘Trials and Tribble-ations’ to examine how Star Trek tells stories that go beyond the conventional expectations of broadcast television.

Session 9: “Leave Bigotry in Your Quarters; There’s no Room for it on the Bridge”

Since its debut, Star Trek has been always been a fiction of social justice. This session will examine it as an exemplar of science fiction’s ability to engage with and criticise the present in allegorical form. Through episodes such as ‘Far Beyond the Stars’, ‘Rejoined’, and ‘Distant Origin’, we will discuss how popular culture addresses racism, portrays LGBT relationships, and how it can be a vehicle for the interrogation of religious doctrine.

Session 10. “And Yet It Moves…”

Revision of the key themes of the module, discussion of the thematic through-lines which connect the set texts, and a session of advice ahead of the second essay assessment.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number
Communication Written communication skills are key to the work students will do on this module. Moreover, oral interaction in group discussion will be essential to the seminars.
Improving own Learning and Performance Students will be expected to improve their understanding of science fiction’s role in popular culture in response to discussion with the tutor and other students, as well as to develop their own approaches to the criticism of the genre.
Information Technology Student will be required to make full use of library facilities and master online/digital research.
Personal Development and Career planning This will be discussed during the course and is implicitly embedded in the assessed work and in the feedback of course tutor and peers.
Problem solving Employing the skills of critical engagement, assessment of writing technique, and analysis of structure and genre will arise and be dealt with during seminars and in assessment. The effectiveness by which the student has solved problems is evident in the planning of and quality of the finished work.
Research skills The assessment on this module will reflect the student’s ability to engage with the set texts with a critical eye as well.
Subject Specific Skills Practical proficiency in the specific skills of writing critically about popular culture, as well as literary analysis and criticism more generally, which will prepare students for their second and third year modules.
Team work Students will have the opportunity to work in small group discussions during seminars.


This module is at CQFW Level 4