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Textbooks and Reference Sources


There is no designated textbook for this class. As History of Science is a field that can be studied in a lot of different ways with little standardization, and as there are relatively few history of science students worldwide compared to subjects like calculus with famous textbooks, there is not as much emphasis in the field and much less commercial incentive to develop textbooks specifically for teaching. The five Textbooks on the resource list were each developed with teaching as one of several goals, and they each combine this with other aims and their own distinct emphases.

I recommend that you have a look at a few of the textbooks during the first couple weeks of the course and decide on one to consider in more detail during the semester. Each textbook provides its own way of connecting up the history of science, and whichever textbook you choose will complement the other ways of connecting up the subject in this course.

Very briefly, here are some major features of the textbooks:

  • Fara, Science: A Four Thousand Year History emphasizes the diversity of science and attempts to incorporate recent research to show the variety of ideas, places, and practices that have gone into scientific knowledge. Fara's philosophy has a lot in common with this course's, but with a different way of organising the material and a different choice of emphases, which may be an advantage or disadvantage depending on what you want from a textbook.
  • Bowler and Morus, Making Modern Science was the most explicitly designed for classroom use, focusing on Western science starting in the early modern period. The first half gives a chronological sequence of major developments, and the second half revisits the material from a thematic perspective.
  • Morus, Oxford Illustrated History of Science was written mainly as a way to connect non-specialist readers (not necessarily students) to major areas and themes of history of science research. Each chapter has a different author and stands more or less alone, but collectively they give a good view of the field.
  • Reser and McNeill, Forces of Nature: The Women Who Changed Science was based in part on the authors' teaching and in part on their public engagement through a podcast and online publication featuring feminist approaches to the history of science. They make a deliberate effort to foreground women and also confront the challenge of how to study a field that has often excluded women from historically marginalized perspectives.
  • Henry, A Short History of Scientific Thought grew out of Henry's many years teaching this course. It is an ideas-centred history of some major elements of Western science. Covering a relatively narrow version of the subject allows Henry to tell a more coherent story across the book.

Handbooks, Readers, and Compendia

When you have reference questions about the history of science or want to find out more about a specific time, place, or subject, I would like you to get into a habit of looking for answers in academic sources rather than starting with an internet search. Most academic writing, including most works on the Resource List, aims to introduce new research and ideas. However, especially as a field grows, academics occasionally come together to try to sum up the state of the art about an area of study. The books in this section come from such efforts, usually collecting a large number of expert authors and trying to identify what the best recent research tells us about important subjects of the history of science. In addition to chapters summarizing what we know, these books will also help you identify where to look next for more information.

I have also included the Dictionary of Scientific Biography for any time you want to look up specific people, the Lady Science project of Reser and McNeill and their collaborators for more sources on women and gender and feminist approaches to the field, and IsisCB Explore for a curated database of further specialist research.

intro/textbooks-refs.txt · Last modified: 2023/07/08 08:55 by mjb