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Science in the Early Modern World (HI2F6-15)


The philosopher William Gilbert demonstrating magnetism to Queen Elizabeth I, 1598.
Oil painting by Ernest Board, made in the nineteenth century.

Note for students thinking about 2021-2022 modules: minor changes will be made to this module over the summer of 2021

Moodle site for this module

Where did science come from? A traditional answer says that it was invented in Europe in the early modern period, c. 1450 to 1750. A more recent answer is that science came from nowhere in particular, since it emerged from connections and exchanges across the early modern globe. This module gives due respect to both answers but takes neither of them for granted. It explores the origins of modern science by covering key developments in early European science and by linking these to long-distance trade, voyages of discovery, religious missions, and imperial conquest. We cover science in India, China, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas, and we enter the many sites in which early modern science was done, from mines and kitchens to ships and cathedrals.

This module tackles head-on the question of how to reconcile the recieved view of a canonical event in European history (the scientific revolution) with revisionist histories that take a global or postcolonial point of view. Students will learn how to take a reasoned stance on a controversial topic without ignoring the deep disagreements (empirical, methodological, and political) that generated the controversy.

Science in the Early Modern World may be taken on its own, or paired with Science in the Modern World. It is an undergraduate second-year 15 CATS option module that has no pre-requisite or post-requisite modules. No scientific knowledge is required to take the module.


Convenor and tutor: Dr Michael Bycroft
Office: H017 ground floor, Humanities Building
Office hours: Tuesday, 12-1pm, Thursday 12-1pm
Email: m dot bycroft at warwick dot ac dot uk


Note for May 2020 module selection: this will be a new module in 2020-21. It is the result of dividing the current 30-CAT module, Science, Technology and Society, 1450 to Present, into two 15-CAT modules, and updating the content of each.