HIS20780 History of Science

Academic Year 2020/2021

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 that we today consider to be ‘scientific’. It traces a line from the earliest conceptions of the universe to the evolving views of mankind’s relationship with his world, through the Scientific Revolution to current and emerging scientific theories that challenge our very notions of reality itself. The course addresses the question of what counts as science, and
whether this has changed over time. What, for example, would the idea of ‘science’ or ‘scientific endeavour’ have meant to the earliest geographers, zoologists or mathematicians? What is a ‘scientific revolution’? How does the history of science confirm or challenge our ideas of historical narratives?

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, Philosophy of Science

Show/hide contentOpenClose All

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; ancient
concepts of the universe; Pythagorean and Aristotelian models in ancient Greece; Ptolemy’s
geocentric model and the sphere.
Lecture 2. The Life Sciences: Ancient Greece to the Roman Empire, c.350 BCE-c.500 CE:
Early medicine and natural science in Asia and Europe; Animal husbandry and care;
Aristotle’s biology; teleology and zoology in the Hellenistic period; natural history in the
Roman empire, from Lucretius to Galen; Isidore of Seville.
Lecture 3. Science in the Islamic Golden Age, 786-1258 CE: Science in the Umayyad and
Abbasid caliphates; medieval Islamic contributions to mathematics; transmission of
knowledge to Europe; astronomy and cosmology in medieval Islam; Zakariya al-Qazwini
and the Marvels of Creatures and Strange Things Existing; Islamic cartography.
Lecture 4. Scientific Endeavour in Europe in the Middle Ages, c.900-1453 CE: Science in
Europe in the middle ages; Greek and Arabic influences; science and the medieval
university; scientific and technological innovation in the 12th century; rediscovering the
classics; medical and veterinary texts.
Lecture 5. Science in a New World, 1492-1700 CE: The Portuguese discoveries and the dawn
of astronomical navigation; understanding a new continent; natural history in 16th-century
Spanish America; empirical practices in the service of the Spanish Empire; natural science
and medicine in Portuguese and Dutch Brazil; the Columbian Exchange; did Portugal and
Spain contribute to the Scientific Revolution?
Lecture 6. Scientific Revolution I: The Renaissance to Descartes, c1450-1650: the printing
press and its impact on scientific work; sensory experience and the rejection of the Classics;
medicine and veterinary practices in early modern Europe; Paracelsus and chemical
medicine; the anatomy and physiology of Vesalius and Harvey; new methodologies: Francis
Bacon and the Scientific Method; the work and legacy of René Descartes
Lecture 7. Views of the Cosmos II: Scientific Revolution II from Copernicus to Newton,
1543-1687: 16th-century concepts of the universe; Copernicus and the heliocentric universe;
the Copernican Revolution: Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei; Robert
Boyle and experimentalism; Isaac Newton and the Principia Mathematica.
Lecture 8. Enlightenment and Empire, c.1700-1815: The influence of scientific societies and
academies in England and France; the evolution of natural philosophy; science as a tool of
social reform; dissemination and the popularisation of science; literacy and popular science
in print; science and imperial stimulus; the Chemical Revolution; scientific innovation and
the Industrial Revolution.
Lecture 9. 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; science and war in the 20th century; Mendel and
the emergence of genetics; DNA and the double helix.
Lecture 10. The Atom, the Cat and the Bomb – Atomic theory and Quantum Mechanics,
c.1827-1960: Brownian motion: antecedents; John Dalton and the dawn of modern atomic
theory; the discovery of the electron; Marie Curie and radioactivity; Ernest Rutherford and
the Geiger–Marsden experiment; Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and the Copenhagen
interpretation; Schrödinger’s cat; nuclear fission and the Manhattan project; Richard
Feynman and the emergence of QED.
Lecture 11. Views of the Cosmos III: From the Big Bang to the Holographic Universe,
c.1929 to the present: Edwin Hubble and the expanding universe; Fred Hoyle’s helium
problem; Steady State vs. the Big Bang; the afterglow of creation; Paul Dirac and antimatter;
quantum foam, the multiverse and the many-worlds interpretation; the holographic
Lecture 12. Ecology, Environment and Climate Change, 1800 to the present: What is
Environmental History? 18th-century precursors to environmentalism; Thomas Robert
Malthus and the social theory of population dynamics; Alexander von Humboldt: botanical
geography, Naturgemälde and climate change; Empire, industry and nature in the 19th
century; Environmentalism in the 19th and 20th centuries; Climatology, 19th century to the

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


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 18:00 - 19:50 Online
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 Tues 18:00 - 19:50 Face to Face