Table of Contents
This course surveys science in world history from ancient times to the present, focusing on the natural, social, and engineering sciences in the modern West (including the pivotal history of science in Edinburgh) and their respective wider contexts while also interrogating the historical association between science and western modernity. We shall develop an approach to understanding scientific knowledge and authority as embedded in historically specific social, cultural, economic, and political settings. Asking what makes something scientific and how the historical sciences have interacted with their changing environs, we shall examine broad transformations in the ideas, institutions, status, apparatus, applications, and consequences of science, broadly construed to include aspects of engineering, mathematics, health, philosophy, theology, and other related subjects. These questions will be closely linked to the changing faces of science's practitioners, targets, and constituents, which we shall examine in terms of gender, class, race, religion, and cultural identity.
The course has an open-ended design that supports a wide variety of student backgrounds and learning goals, whether you are looking to broaden your horizons, explore unfamiliar subjects, dig deeply into topics of special interest, or develop new skills in historical and social interpretation. Students have recently come from more than a hundred degree programmes and nearly every area of the university. We will work with you to shape an approach to the course that meets your learning goals and responds to your interests, so that you can get the most from this semester.
The history of science is a wide-ranging and fascinating subject that connects together just about everything we do at this university, and I am looking forward to exploring it with you over the next few months!
The course has two entries in the course catalogue, depending on whether your work is marked on a pass/fail or numerical basis.
Course organiser and administrator information is on the course catalogue pages.
The official learning outcomes of the course are as follows.
On completion of this course, you will be able to:
- Explain major developments in the ideas, institutions, and products of science in world history.
- Apply contextual and comparative perspectives to scientific knowledge and practices from disparate times and places.
- Discuss how scientific knowledge and practices relate to their wider political, economic, social, and cultural contexts.
- Critically evaluate the use of historical evidence in historical argument.
Dr Barany’s unofficial additional outcomes are as follows.
Unofficially, I want you to be able to:
- Read like a historian (useful in many fields!).
- Know how to find reliable information about the history of science and how to tell when you are looking at unreliable information.
- Be comfortable talking about science and history and have a sense of ownership over both.
- Get better at university-level writing skills, including citing, summarizing, paraphrasing, and constructing a contextualized argument.
- See the history of science around you and relate it to your life.
Timetable and Meetings
In terms of hours spent, most of your learning for this course will be self-directed, indvidually and in groups you organise for yourselves, based on a combination of reading, writing, and other activities. This gives you a maximum of flexibility to make this course work for your interests, priorities, and other commitments this semester.
Tuesday and Thursday evenings (1610-1800) have been reserved on the timetable for whole class learning. We will be doing as much live discussion and interaction as we can safely do in this period. There will be moderated conversations with guest presenters, interactive large-group exercises, open discussion with Dr Barany, and other activities, and you will usually be advised of the plan at least a week in advance. Activities will not generally run the whole two hours, and the balance of the time will be available for less formal conversation and feedback. Activities will be recorded and made available to the extent possible, so that those unable to attend live or stay for the entire time can still benefit. The availability of recordings also means you should not attend if you are feeling at all unwell. Please put your and classmates' health as the first priority.
There will be optional (but highly encouraged!) synchronous tutorials in small groups with a wonderful tutor to help you build skills, answer questions, and explore course material, starting in week 2. Stay tuned for more information.