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Science, Technology and Society, 1400 to Present (HI2D5)

Tutors: Dr Michael Bycroft
Office: H017 ground floor, Humanities Building
Office hours: Mon 2-3pm, Thurs 3-4pm, during term time, excluding reading weeks
Email: m dot bycroft at warwick dot ac dot uk

Lecture Times: Mondays 1-2pm, Oculus 1.06
Seminar Times: Thursdays 12-1pm in H2.44, Thursdays 2-3pm in H3.55

Note on reading: each week you are expected to do the 'Essential Reading' listed for that week. 'Additional Readings' are for essay-writing, exam revision, and for sheer curiosity. See the readings for the Introduction lecture for a list of 'Reference works on the history of science since 1400.'

Module description

Science is strange. It is accessible only to a small group of specialists, but it has an enormous impact on the lives of ordinary people across the globe. From climate change and pharmaceuticals to GM crops and the internet, we live in a society which places enormous trust in science and technology. But how did this come to be? And is it always for the best? To answer these questions, we tell the story of modern science through the eyes of the people who produced and consumed it.

We cover major episodes in the history of knowledge from the military revolution of the sixteenth century to the digital revolution of the twentieth. We deal with household names such as Newton, Darwin and Einstein, but also with an array of lesser-known men and women who helped to shape modern science, including Jesuit missionaries, Arabic alchemists, Chinese astronomers, and African-American astrophysicists. Along the way we gauge the public attitude to science through poems, paintings, photographs, films and newspaper articles. These sources allow us to see when and why science acquired its enormous authority in modern culture, and how this prestige has been challenged on the grounds that science is unreliable, unjust or inhuman.

We bring the story up to the present day, when science and technology are a source of great optimism as well as great anxiety—optimism about nanotechnology, space exploration, and quantum computing, and anxiety about the injustice of algorithms, the flaws in the peer-review process, and the exclusion of women and ethnic minorities from the scientific enterprise.

This undergraduate second-year 30 CATS option module has no pre-requisite or post-requisite modules.

This module will form an excellent basis for further study in the history of science. It is also designed for students interested in global history, intellectual history, or social history, whether in the modern or early modern period.

No scientific knowledge is needed to study this module.
Key concepts will be introduced by lecturers and seminar tutors, helping you link the content of science to the wider world of society and politics. That said, students studying for degrees in any of the sciences are very welcome to apply.
Images, from top: optical diagram from manuscript by the 11th-century Arab philosopher Ibn al-Haytham; 'human computers' at the Harvard College Observatory, 1918; cover of Nature magazine in 1929; world map published by Hendrik Hondius in 1630.