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Week 1. Cosmologies

This week is all about how things fit together, and how to find your place in a harmonious whole. About half of our time will be spent very briefly introducing cosmology in the history of science – just a glimpse to start us thinking; we will return to many of the ideas and topics later in the course! The other half of the week will be about the cosmology of History of Science as a course: what to expect, how it fits together, and how to get the most of your semester.

This is a busy week for many students, so we have put the information in a lot of places and made it easy to catch up. The most important task is to make sure you are signed up for the correct assessment option (see below).

What to do during week 1

  • Whole Class Meetings. We have set aside every Tuesday and Thursday evening from 1610-1800 for meetings of the whole class. This week we will use most of the time available in the lecture theatre, but this will vary from week to week.
    • Whole class meetings will always be recorded to the extent possible. Recordings should normally be available immediately (in fact, basically live, with a short delay) via the Recorded Sessions link on the university's virtual learning environment site for the course. We encourage you to attend the meetings as much as you can, especially to meet classmates and benefit from interactive elements, but how you engage these is entirely up to you. Use the recordings to catch up on parts you missed, review and take notes, or however else is useful. You can even slow them down or speed them up in playback.
    • On both Tuesday and Thursday we will spend some time talking about each of the two major topics for this week: cosmology in the history of science and the cosmology of History of Science (the course).
    • At the end of each session, Dr Barany will be available if you would like to come up and say hello or ask any questions.
    • Some weeks, we will have guest discussions. These are informal conversations between Dr Barany, a special guest from Edinburgh's research community, and everyone from the class who is present! They will introduce you to some exciting subjects of current research in the field and the exciting people who research them! We probably will not have a guest discussion this week, unless there is a need to reschedule one from later in the semester.
    • Slides will normally be posted on this website in advance of each meeting for those who would like them for reference, note taking, or following along on your own device. This week, since it is the start of term, slides will shared be a little closer to the start time than usual.
  • Exercises. Every week there will be a section of Exercises to help you structure your working and thinking in the course. Try them out, modify them, and generally use them however you find helpful. Write some notes and responses in your student blog! We encourage you to take a deliberate and thoughtful approach to your learning, and there is no one set way to go through the course.
  • Reading Guide. Every week there will be a short Reading Guide to help you get started identifying resources to read. There are no set reading assignments in this course. It is up to you to use the Resource List meaningfully and usefully for your interests and goals – with lots of help from lectures, tutorials, this website, and each other! We will practice reading skills during the course to make this process of exploring the Resource List as rewarding as it can be. Most students will spend a bit less time than usual on course readings this week, but will probably want to catch up on topics of interest later on.
  • Proofs. Every week there will be a few questions to help you test your understanding of the weekly topic and readings. Take a look at the Proofs for this week and think briefly about how you might answer them, and write a few notes in your student blog. Eventually, short responses to these questions that you develop and revise during the semester will form a key piece of most students' assessment submissions. This week, do not worry too much about these; they will make more sense and will find a productive place in your studying pattern soon.
  • Tutorials. Tutorial groups will be assigned later this week, and will begin meeting during week 2 (next week).
  • :!: Important :!: Make sure you are enrolled in the correct version of the course. See instructions below.

Time-Sensitive Task!! Are you in the right place??

There are two marking options for this course. The course is designed to be taken on a pass-fail basis, which we recommend for most students. Some students, however, require a numerical mark, and we want the course to be open to them too. Please read the guidance on marking options and have a look at the assessment information page. We will discuss these this week, as well.

Your marking option is set by the course number under which you are registered. The main pass-fail option is STIS08011, and the numerical option is STIS08005. You have until the course change deadline to switch to (or stay in) the version you prefer. You should use the course change process for your degree programme to switch, and all the usual deadlines for changing courses unfortunately also apply to changing marking options.

Since pass-fail marking is not yet widely used at our university, many staff and students do not have experience with these as a part of a happy and healthy degree programme. Our teaching support team would be :-( sad :-( and 8-o distressed 8-o for students to accidentally end up registered for the wrong marking option. To be extra super sure you are in the right place, they would like you to confirm this for your degree programme and sign off on this wee form (student login required). It's rather a bother during an already busy week for you, but better sorted now than sorry later.

Lecture Slides


Getting Set Up

On the university learning platform, click on the Blog Site link to get started setting up your student blog for the course.

We will use a very basic setup to get started and make use of more features as we continue in the course. For now, just take the following steps1):

  1. Click the Customise link in the menu at the top of your new site.
  2. Under Site Identity, change the Site Title to your name in the format Firstname-Lastname.
  3. Click the Activate & Publish button in the top left of the page.
  4. In the top menu, you should see your name as the name of the blog. Click on this to open the dashboard.
  5. In the menu on the left, click Posts. You will see a sample post. Hover over it and click the Bin option to delete it.
  6. Likewise, go to Pages and bin the sample page. We will use the Pages feature for assembling your assessment.
  7. To start posting, go back to Posts in the dashboard and click Add New to begin a new post. Click Publish when you are done for now (you can always edit later). Try starting with a brief post introducing yourself and discussing some of your goals for the course!

Critical Thinking

Spend a short amount of time thinking about these questions and practice putting your ideas into writing.

  1. What is science? What would you show to someone unfamiliar with science as an example that demonstrates what science is? What are some words, people, places, times, ideas, values, and goals you (or others) associate with science?
  2. Where is the centre of the Universe? Does it matter? Why? For whom? Did the Universe have an origin? When? How do you know? If you rely on the claims of others who answer these questions, what makes them trustworthy?
  3. Does the Earth revolve around the Sun? How do you know? What does the claim mean in practical, everyday, philosophical, religious, or other terms?

Goal Setting

Write down some specific and general goals for your participation and learning in this course. You will refer back to these goals during the term and at the end. Note some strategies for achieving these goals. What will you need to accomplish them, and how will you meet those needs?

Community Building

Go to the class Florilegium and practice making an edit. You will need to use the login instructions posted on Learn (please do not make your own account until we have had a discussion in class about this).

If you feel comfortable, share a response on one or both of the discussion pages started by Dr Barany. If applicable, after enough responses have been shared, consider ways to format and organise the page that would be useful or interesting for your peers.

In the goal-setting exercise, think about how the Florilegium might be a part of your course engagement.

Reading Guide

A major focus for this semester will be developing reading skills that you can take with you to your own degree programme, career, and life ahead. Because life does not give you fixed reading assignments and deadlines, neither will this course. We will instead emphasize how to identify good resources and read them effectively, not what to read.

You may have noticed that the Resource List is huge. I have gathered a wide range of quality writing on the history of science. Your effort to find texts that speak to your interests and to connect your reading to the course is part of the intended learning process.

Reading Strategies

Strategies discussed this week are collected here.

Textbooks and Reference Sources

Please see the textbooks and reference sources guide. In weeks 1-2, you should have a brief look at a few of the textbooks and think about their different approaches and what might work well for you.

Cosmologies readings

Most weeks the reading guide will focus on that week's designated section of the Resource List. This week, there is a lot going on, so you may end up coming back to these readings later in the course.

There are several books treating cosmology in major times and places. Rochberg considers some of the oldest documented cosmological knowledge systems; Dowd & Milbrath examine counterparts in ancient Mesoamerica; Cullen gives some examples from ancient China; and Zakariya looks for cosmology in a variety of modern sources.

Histories of cosmology often blur into methodologies from other fields such as archaeology (studying the past based on material artefacts) and anthropology (studying living cultures in the present), especially for understanding contexts where we cannot rely as much on written records. Kreamer, Verran, Aveni & Urton, Ruggles & Cotte, and Holbrook & collaborators each represent recent approaches to astronomy and cosmology from these perspectives.

A final set of readings explore Western cosmology in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a time of scientific transformation that some considered revolutionary (we will return to the question of what this means in unit 10!). Grafton, Rothman, Schaffer, Biagioli, Gingerich & Westman, Lattis, and Henry all engage in major debates about the sources, motives, and conditions of these cosmological transformations. Rampling gives a slightly earlier prequel to these cosmologies and the debates surrounding them.


After you have thought about the lectures and done some reading from the Resource List, think about how you would answer one or more of the following prompts and write down some notes and citations from the Resource List that seem related. You may eventually develop one of these into a 200-300 word response as part of your final portfolio, and in any case it will be helpful to think about these questions to develop your historical understanding. You may find it helpful to keep these questions in mind as you continue to read from the textbooks and Resource List.

A. Ancient Greek philosophers put the Earth at the centre of the system of planets and stars. Chinese Emperors ruled over the “Middle Kingdom.” Many societies and cultures have imagined their worlds and cosmos with themselves in the middle. Discuss, with examples and concepts from the history of science, what is at stake in putting oneself at the centre and why practitioners of science have at different points in history put themselves nearer to or farther from the centre in their ideas of the cosmos and universe.

B. Compare and contrast historical ideas about the relationship between the sky or heavens and the earth or human events, using examples and concepts from the history of science. How have past thinkers established connections or disconnections between these, why have they sought them, and what are their implications?

C. Ideas about how the universe is ordered can be highly compelling. Using examples and concepts from the history of science, discuss how specific historical figures have produced evidence and arguments to challenge prevailing ideas about order, how they made their evidence compete with those ideas, and what shaped their acceptance or rejection in specific contexts.

adapted from the UoE student wordpress guide by Niki Pryde
intro/cosmologies.txt · Last modified: 2024/01/15 21:22 by mjb