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First short essay


For most students, the first 2000-word essay is due at 5pm on Wednesday in week 9 of the Autumn term (ie. 29th November). This is a formative assessment.

For visiting students staying for three terms, the first 2000-word essay is due at 12 noon on Wednesday in week 9 of the Autumn term (ie. 29th November). This is a summative assessment

Visiting students arriving in autumn are also required to submit a 1000-word essay plan by 12 noon on Wednesday of week 5 of the Autumn term (ie. 1st November). This is a formative assessment for students staying for two or three terms, and a summative assessment for those staying for one term.

Visiting students are permitted to write their essay plan and first essay on two different questions, but they may also write them on the same question.

Submission procedure

The submission procedure for the essays and essay plans is as follows. By the due date you will submit a hard copy and an electronic copy of your work. Please email the electronic copy to You may hand the hard copy to me at the seminar the day before the deadline, or place it in the box outside Room H0.17.

Your task

This short essay (and essay plan) will be an analysis of a primary source of your choice. You are encouraged to consult two or three secondary sources to enrich your answer, but your priority should be to read the primary source carefully and cite passages from the source to support your answer.

Below is a list of primary sources and questions. You are welcome to devise a question on your own based on one of these sources, or on a primary source that is not on this list. However in both of these cases you must contact me to get your new question and/or source approved.

Marking scheme

All short essays will be marked according to the History department's marking scheme, which is discussed in section 3.1.7 of the undergraduate handbook.

The essay plan will be assessed according to the same marking scheme, in accordance with the following guidelines:

The essay plan should respond to a particular question and should set out how the student understands the question and what material they will bring to bear in answering that question. In respect to the discussion of the texts, they should show some awareness of the text, what type of text it is, and what its aims and objectives were, and an understanding of why the issues of interpretation that the question raises are pertinent to that text. The essay plan should include a draft introduction; a list of section headings for the issues to be addressed, with a brief discussion for each section of its relevance in responding to the question, and there should be a concluding section which identifies the way in which the candidate hopes to have provided an answer to the question. The introduction and conclusion should be written in prose. For the individual sections, you can decide whether to set out your ideas in prose or as a list.

Questions and readings

Below are the primary sources and questions. Each is followed by one or two secondary texts that should help you to interpret the text and answer the question. For additional secondary texts, consult the following, in order of precedence: the footnotes to the secondary texts suggested below; the works in the general bibliography; me, by email or during my office hours.


Aristotle, Meteorology, book 1. Available online.


Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals, book 1. Also available online.

Question for EITHER (not BOTH) of these texts: To what extent does Aristotle base his theories on experience?

Question for the Meteorology only: According to Aristotle, how do the 'dry' and 'moist' exhalations explain meteorological phenomena? Note that a complete answer to this question will include a clear account of what (according to Aristotle) those exhalations are.

Lloyd, G. E. R., ‘Empirical Research in Aristotle’s Biology’, in Philosophical Issues in Aristotle's Biology (Cambridge University Press, 1987)

Bolton, Robert, ‘Definition and Scientific Method in Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics and Generation of Animals’, in Philosophical Issues in Aristotle's Biology (Cambridge University Press, 1987)

Wilson, Malcolm. Structure and Method in Aristotle’s Meteorologica: A More Disorderly Nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.


William Harvey, On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals, chapters 8-17 inclusive. Two hard-copy editions are in the library; there is also an electronic version.

What role does metaphor, experiment, or quantification (choose one) play in Harvey's argument for the circulation of the blood?

French, Roger. William Harvey's Natural Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1994), chapter 4 and especially chapter 5


William Gilbert, On the Magnet. One copy of Mottelay's translation of this text is available at the library as a 3-day loan.

What is the relationship between (on the one hand) Gilbert's experiments and observations and (on the other hand) his theories and speculations? Note that a complete answer to this question will include a clear account of Gilbert's experiments, observations, theories and speculations.

Henry, John. “Animism and Empiricism: Copernican Physics and the Origins of William Gilbert’s Experimental Method.” Journal of the History of Ideas 62.1 (2001): 99–119.

Hesse, Mary B. “Gilbert and the Historians (I).” The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 11.41 (1960): 1–10.

Galileo 1

Galileo Galilei, The Assayer - the Stillman Drake translation is available online

What methodological criticisms does Galileo level against his opponents? Are his own arguments immune to those criticisms?

Heilbron, John. Galileo. Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 245-252 - available at the library

Galileo 2

Galileo Galilei, Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, Day 1, p. 46 onwards in Stillman Drake's translation, available in hard-copy as a 3-day loan at the library. If that copy is taken, email me to borrow my personal copy.

Simplicio says 'sensible experiements ought to be finally preferred above anything that can be supplied by human argument.' To what extent does Salviati, Galileo's mouthpiece, prefer sensible experiments over argument?


Why did Galileo include the character of Sagredo in the Dialogue?

Heilbron, John. Galileo. Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 268-270 - available at the library


Johannes Kepler, Defense of Tycho against Ursus, in Nicholas Jardine, The Birth of the History and Philosophy of Science - available from the library as a 3-day loan

According to Kepler, why should we believe theories simply because they agree with our observations?


What role do appeals to the history of astronomy play in Kepler's defense of Tycho?

Jardine, The Birth of the History and Philosophy of Science, chapters 6-8


Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, book 1 - available online

How does Bacon argue for 'the excellence of learning and knowledge'?


Against who or what did Bacon write The Advancement of Learning?

Part 1 of the Introduction to the Oxford edition of The Advancement of Learning -- see link above

Gaukroger, Stephen. Francis Bacon and the Transformation of Early-Modern Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, chapter 3.