Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Themes in the History of Science, Technology, Environment and Society (HI999)



Dr James Poskett


How can we understand the social and natural world in which we live? Concepts such as ‘nature’, ‘race’, ‘the body’, ‘the economy’, or ‘society’ help us to classify and order the endless phenomena in the material and natural world that we encounter every day. Yet while such concepts are vital, and seem fixed, transhistorical and objective, they emerged at particular moments in history, their meanings changed, and they were often deployed for particular purposes.

This module investigates the rise, changing meanings and purposes of such ordering concepts and the practices which go with them. It also explores how such concepts and practices reflected the social, economic, and political contexts in which they emerged and flourished. Drawing on the extensive expertise of colleagues in the Department who work on the interrelation of society and culture with science, technology, medicine, environment, economics, and political economy, this module will introduce students to ongoing human practices of order and meaning-making, our struggles to makes sense of the human and natural world and the many moral, and the ethical dilemma that accompany them.

Specific content may change from year to year.


Week 1. Territory (Poskett)

Week 2. Cosmology (Poskett)

Week 3. Nature (Poskett)

Week 4. Craft (Mola)

Week 5. Quality (Bycroft) cancelled

Week 6. Reading Week

Week 7. Natural Resources (Bycroft) NB. 9-11am, Monday 20th February 2023, FAB1.15

Week 8. Race (Plath) NB. 9-11am, Monday 27 February 2023, FAB1.05

Week 9. Environment (Crouzet)

Week 10. Bioborders (Bivins)

Reading List

See Talis Aspire for readings and seminar questions.


6,000-word primary-source essay.

This should be an extended essay focused on one of the set primary sources from the seminars.

Alternatively, you may select your own primary source. However, this must clearly link to one of the seminar weeks and you must confirm your choice of source via email with the module convenor. The source/s should be focused, ie. a book, painting, collection of letters, museum object, or alike.

In either case, you can select your own specific essay title, in consultation with the module convenor and/or seminar tutor for that week.

The focus of the essay should be on situating the source/s in the appropriate historical context, advancing an argument with regards to interpretation, and reflecting on any methodological and historiographical problems the source/s pose

You will need to identify and make use of appropriate secondary literature yourself.

The best essays will offer a novel interpretation of how to think about a particular period, place, episode, and/or theme in the history of science and technology through the source.

Deadlines are available here and on Tabula.

Term Spring
Day Mondays
Time 2–4pm (except Week 7 and 8)

FAB3.32 (except Week 7 and 8)




Images from top to bottom: The Beijing astronomical observatory (1696), 'Coalbrookdale by Night' (1801), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (2016).