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

Term

Week

Lecture and Seminar Topic

Seminar topics are in italics

Autumn Term
1

Introduction. Science, technology and society in history.
(James Poskett and Michael Bycroft)

What is science? How should we study it historically? And why does this matter today?

2

Theories of Everything, 1400-1700. Theories.
(Michael Bycroft)

Early modern theories of nature were all-encompassing. They covered everything from the movements of the planets to the causes of rain and snow to the function of the liver. In Christian Europe, in the Islamic world, and in Confucian China, these theories shaped peoples’ lives in profound ways. But they began to change in the early modern period as scholars throughout Eurasia took a fresh look at ancient traditions. New theories were debated, old ones discarded, and the very idea of a Theory of Everything called into question.

3

Scholars and artisans, 1400-1700. Experiment.
(Michael Bycroft)

Sixteenth-century Europe saw an unprecedented convergence of mental and manual labour. Painters, gunners and surgeons argued for the intellectual value of their labour and wrote books about their crafts. Scholars entered their workshops and described what they found there. Practical learning also flourished in China and Japan. The result was a new form of experience and a new kind of expert—those who mediated between wealthy patrons and ordinary artisans and who drove a wedge between those two groups.

4

Merchants and missionaries, 1400-1700. Circulation.
(Michael Bycroft)

Merchants and missionaries criss-crossed the early modern world in search of materials to buy and souls to win. Spanish and Portuguese voyages of discovery brought Europeans into contact with vibrant cultures in China, Japan, India and the Americas. Encounters between Europeans and other cultures led to bemusement, disdain, anger, and admiration, on both sides. Voyagers returned home with materials and information that turned old theories on their head.

5

The mathematisation of the world, 1400-1700. Measurement.
(Michael Bycroft)

Scientists such as Galileo and Newton believed that the world was mathematical. They did so because mathematics was worldly. It was used to wage war, make art, and do business. It was a language shared by Catholic cosmographers, Protestant astronomers, and Confucian cartographers. But it was not universal. It was confounded by electricity, infinity, and charges of elitism and arrogance.

6

Reading Week (no lecture or seminar)

7

Science in the public sphere, 1700-1800. Authority.
(Michael Bycroft)

Science became part of public culture in the eighteenth century. ‘Experimental philosophers’ showed the wonders of electricity in taverns and coffee-shops; plants and minerals filled the cabinets of collectors; periodicals buzzed with the latest discoveries about polyps and planets. For many thinkers, science went hand-in-hand with moral and political progress. These thinkers often slighted the very people who made the new science possible—artisans, women, non-Europeans. But these groups found a large and sympathetic audience outside the scientific establishment. Science had won over the public, but scientists had not.

8

The science of human nature, 1700-1800. Mind.
(Claudia Stein)

‘Human nature’ and ‘the science of man’ were two buzzwords of the European Enlightenment. This lecture examines the philosophers and reformers who built a science of human nature on the model of the natural sciences. The science of man aimed to study humans with more rigour and accuracy than ever before. But it was shot through with assumptions about race, gender, and the nature of knowledge.

9

The expert state, 1700-1800. Expertise
(Claudia Stein)

Eighteenth-century states drew on a new breed of experts to help with the business of government, from controlling populations to digging mines. Between 1600 and 1800, these scientific and technical experts and transformed the government of citizens across the world, from Europe to Asia.

10

Science in the age of revolution, 1780-1850. Disciplines.
(James Poskett)

Science and technology underwent another fundamental shift in the wake of the French and American Revolutions. This lecture explores the connection between the Age of Revolution and the rise of new disciplines and sites for knowledge production.

Christmas Vacation

Spring Term
1

Workshop of the world, 1780-1900. Technology.
(James Poskett)

New technologies transformed the Victorian world. Steam-engines roared in the factories of Lancashire, railways followed the expansion of colonialism in India, and engineering projects expanded the American frontier.

2

The origins of evolution, 1760-1900. Life.
(James Poskett)

In the Victorian age, science and religion came together in new debates about the origin of life. This lecture explores the complex and controversial history of evolutionary theory, from radical France to the Ottoman Empire. We also examine how Darwin’s theory could be used to reinforce and challenge gender stereotypes, as well as the crucial role that women played in the development and circulation of evolution across the world.

3

Anthropology and empire, 1800-1900. Race.
(James Poskett)

Throughout the nineteenth century, anthropologists travelled across the colonial world, studying the mind, body and culture of the peoples they met. In studying the history of race, this lecture links science and technology to the politics of empire. We explore the work of early colonial ethnologists, such as James Cowles Prichard, as well as later twentieth-century anthropologists, such as Margaret Mead.

4

DNA and the secret of life, 1850-1950. Laboratories.
(James Poskett)

Modern biology is done in the laboratory. How did this come to be? This lecture explores the surprising story of how life moved from the field to the laboratory, and how this transformed the way people understood themselves. We also examine the ways in which new understandings of life impacted upon notions of sex and gender far beyond the laboratory walls.

5

From economics to eugenics. Social Science.
(Michael Bycroft)

Can we study society scientifically? Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, various practitioners tried to answer these questions. From the birth of sociology to the development of modern economics, the social sciences were at the heart of new definitions of what it meant to be scientific.

6

Reading Week (no lecture or seminar)

7

A Brief History of Time. Universe.
(James Poskett)

New theories of space and time transformed how both physicists and ordinary people understood their place in the cosmos. This lecture explores these developments from the Einsteinian revolution to Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time.

8

Cold War science and technology, 1945-1991. Ideology.
(Claire Shaw)

This lecture explores how the ideologies of the Cold War were reflected in the science and technology of the twentieth century. From laboratories in the USSR to the Space Race, science had never been more political.

9

Energy and empire, 1900-2000. Infrastructure.
(Katayoun Shafiee)

The twentieth witnessed technological expansion on a global scale. Oil pipelines, nuclear reactors and solar farms were sites of political contest, between the old European empires and the new postcolonial nations.

10

Nature and development, 1945-2000. Futurity.
(Katayoun Shafiee)

In the second half of the twentieth century, science was wrapped up with visions of the future. Postcolonial nations, and their former colonisers, looked to technological solutions in the race for development.

Easter Vacation

Summer Term

1

Conclusion: science, technology and society today
(Michael Bycroft and James Poskett)

How can the history of science help us today? In this lecture we consider how the history we have covered can inform politics, policy and even scientific research in the present.

2

Revision

3

Revision