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What is science and why study its history?

Click here to download the powerpoint slides for this week's lecture

The history of science is a young discipline. People have been writing about past science for several centuries, but it is only in the last fifty years that the history of science has become thoroughly integrated with social, economic and cultural history. Most professional historians of science writing today share the aims and methods of other historians, but it was not always so. The history of science has been written - and still is written - to illustrate the progressive nature of the sciences, to defend one or other general theory about how science works, to debunk scientists' myths about science, and to show the allegedly pernicious effects of scientific thinking on society. Each of these approaches comes with its own view about what science is and why past science was worth studying.


If you have not already done so, read the key webpages for this module, ie. the pages on the general bibliography, on assessment, and on seminars.


Read the texts by Priestley and Jardine, as well as one of the other texts. How would each of these authors answer the two questions in the title of this week's lecture, ie. what is science and why study its history? Remember that several of the other members of the group will not have done the same readings as you, so you will need to explain the readings to them in clear and simple terms.


Priestley, Joseph, The History and Present State of Electricity (London, 1767), 'Preface to the First Edition', pp. i-xi

Nicholas Jardine, 'Chalk to Cheese,' in Times Literary Supplement, December 16, 2011 - look it up!

Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago, 1962), 'Introduction: a Role for History' - any edition, including the pdf here

Paul Feyerabend, Against Method (New Left Books, 1975) - 'Introduction to the Chinese Edition', available here

Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (San Francisco: Harber and Row, 1990) - 'Introduction: Women and Ecology', available here

Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch, The Golem: What Everyone Should Know About Science, 'Introduction: the Golem', and 'Conclusion: Putting the Golem to Work', available here.


Works cited in the lecture

Collins, Harry. Changing Order: Replication and Induction in Scientific Practice. University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Eagle, Cassandra T., and Jennifer Sloan. “Marie Anne Paulze Lavoisier: The Mother of Modern Chemistry.” The Chemical Educator 3, no. 5 (October 1, 1998): 1–18.

Goldacre, Ben. I Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit More Complicated Than That. Fourth Estate, 2015.

Harrison, Peter. The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Margócsy, Dániel. Commercial Visions: Science, Trade, and Visual Culture in the Dutch Golden Age. Chicago ; London: University of Chicago Press, 2014.

Ojha et al. 'Spectral evidence for hydrated salts in recurring slope lineae on Mars', Nature Geoscience, 2015

Shapin, Steven, and Simon Schaffer. Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Princeton University Press, 1985.