HIS20780 History of Science

Academic Year 2023/2024

This module provides a broad outline of the history of science, from ancient times to the present, and incorporates a number of fields of study eventually same to be understood as ‘scientific’. It traces a line from the earliest conceptions of the universe to the evolving views of humanity’s relationship with the world, through the Scientific Revolution to current and emerging scientific models of nature and the universe. The course addresses the question of what counts as science, and how this has changed over time. It asks what the idea of ‘science’ or ‘scientific endeavour’ might have meant to the earliest geographers, zoologists or mathematicians. It also examines the changing relationships between humanity, the animal kingdom, and nature, and the role of science in these relationships. It asks a number of questions, such as: do ‘revolutions’ occur in science? What is the role of science in society and how is science shaped by that society? What is the relationship between science and race, gender, religion, empire?

The module covers the history of several areas of science, including: Natural Philosophy, Astronomy, Botany, Zoology, Medicine, Anatomy & Dissection, Physiology, Animal Science & Veterinary Medicine, Alchemy, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Atomic Theory & Quantum Mechanics, Geology, Evolution, Genetics, Environmental Science, Climatology, Microbiology, Immunology, Therapeutics, and Philosophy of Science.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module students should be able to:
- Assess the role of scientific practice in the development of society from
ancient times to the present.
- Examine the validity of traditional narratives of the history of science and the
Scientific Revolution, and identify important milestones and events.
- Demonstrate understanding of the historiography of the history of science.

Indicative Module Content:

Lecture 1. Views of the Cosmos I: Babylon to the Ptolemaic Universe, c.3000 BCE-150 CE: Introduction: What is the History of Science? The Cradles of Civilisation and the emergence of mathematics; Babylonian star catalogues and the origins of western astronomy; models of the universe in Ancient Greece; the Aristotelian worldview

Seminar 1: What is Science? Falsification & Pseudoscience

Lecture 2. The Life Sciences: Ancient Mesopotamia to the Roman Empire, c.350 BCE-c.500 CE: Early medicine and natural science in Asia and Europe; Animal husbandry and care; Babylonian and Egyptian medicine and magic; Aristotle’s biology; teleology and zoology in the Hellenistic period; natural history in the Roman empire, from Lucretius to Galen; human and non-human animals and the tri-partite soul

Seminar 2: Plague in the Ancient World; Cultural Concepts of the Human Body in Ancient Greece and Rome

Lecture 3. Science in the Islamic Golden Age, 786-1258 CE: The decline of the Western Roman Empire; Islam and science in the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates; translating ancient texts into Arabic; medieval Islamic contributions to medicine and mathematics; transmission of knowledge to Europe

Seminar 3: ‘Arab’ vs. ‘Frankish’ Medicine; The Social Construction of Science

Lecture 4. Science and Medicine in the European Middle Ages, c.900-1453 CE: Science in Europe in the middle ages; Greek and Arabic influences; Charlemagne and educational reform; science and the medieval university; rediscovering the classics; medical and veterinary texts; medicine and gynaecology in medieval Salerno; scholasticism

Seminar 4: Medieval Gynaecology and the ‘Secrets of Women’

Lecture 5. New Worlds and New Knowledge, 1492-1650 CE: The European ‘discovery’ of America; understanding a ‘new’ continent and the Columbian Exchange; the printing press and its impact in Europe; sensory experience and the rejection of the Classics; Artisanal Epistemology and The Book of Nature; the anatomy and physiology of Vesalius and Harvey; The Scientific Method and the ‘Scientific Revolution’.

Seminar 5: Bioethics: Animals and Experimentation in the Early Modern Period

Lecture 6. Discovery, Crisis, Revolution? 1543-1687: What is a scientific revolution? Was there a Scientific Revolution in the 16th & 17th centuries? 16th-century concepts of the universe; the heliocentric universe, from Copernicus to Galileo; Rene Descartes and Mechanical Philosophy; Robert Boyle, the air pump, and experimentalism; what is the legacy of Isaac Newton?

Seminar 6: Writing the Midterm Essay

Lecture 7. Enlightenment and Empire, c.1700-1815: Science, scientism, and the Enlightenment; the Newtonian worldview and European society; the influence of scientific societies and academies in England and France; science as a tool of social reform; insanity, neurology, and the emergence of psychiatry; science and empire; the Chemical Revolution; science and the Industrial Revolution: a relationship?

Seminar 7: Science and Race in the Enlightenment; the Roots of Scientific Racism

Lecture 8. Uncovering the Ancient Earth: the Origins of Geology, the Darwinian Revolution, and Biology in the Modern Age c.1750-1953: debates on the age of the Earth; natural history in the 19th century; Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and 19th-century evolutionary theory; Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection; On the Origin of Species; the aftermath of Darwin; social Darwinism and Eugenics in Europe and America; Mendel and the emergence of genetics; DNA and the double helix

Seminar 8: Gender and Science in the 19th century

Lecture 9. The Making of ‘Modern’ Science, from the Atom to the Big Bang, c.1800-c.1960:
Classifying scientific disciplines; the end of the ‘gentleman scholar’ and the birth of the scientist; the dawn of modern atomic theory; the discovery of the electron; Marie Curie and radioactivity; Relativity and Quantum Mechanics; the bomb; Edwin Hubble and the expanding universe; Steady State vs. the Big Bang; the afterglow of creation

Seminar 9: Science and War

Lecture 10. Microbiology, Immunology, and the Therapeutic Revolution, 1750 to the present: Theories of contagion, 16th-19th centuries; Leeuwenhoek’s ‘Little Animals’; the origins of variolation and vaccination; Louis Pasteur and micro-organisms; Germ Theory of Disease: Cholera, Anthrax, and Rabies; Robert Koch and Bacteriology; mechanisms of immunity; Antibiotics and the drugs revolution; a Therapeutic Revolution for whom? Disease and epidemics as social events

Seminar 10: Animals, Science, and Society, 19th-20th centuries

Lecture 11. Environment, Climate Change, and Pandemic, 1800 to the present: 18th-century precursors to environmentalism; Empire, industry, and nature in the 19th century; Environmentalism in the 19th and 20th centuries; Climatology, 19th century to the present; One Medicine, One Health; environment, disease, and pandemics in the modern age; science and the anti-science movement: a uniquely modern phenomenon?

Seminar 11: Writing the End-of-Semester Essay

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Students will learn through a combination of lectures, group discussions, and the completion of dedicated research essays.
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Assignment: 2,000 word essay Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Continuous Assessment: Class participation Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


Essay: 1,000 word essay Varies over the Trimester n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Remediation Type Remediation Timing
Repeat Within Two Trimesters
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Feedback on the mid-term Essay Plan Assignment is given in writing on the returned hard-copy. Feedback on the end-of-semester Essay Assignment is given by appointment in one-to-one meetings.

Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - Autumn: All Weeks Tues 16:00 - 17:50
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 Tues 16:00 - 17:50