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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.

Moodle site for this module - available to students from October 1, 2021

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.


Convenors and tutors:

Dr Michael Bycroft

Email: m dot bycroft at warwick dot ac dot uk
Office: H017 ground floor, Humanities Building; New Arts Building, quadrant B, L03.077
Office hours, term 1, weeks 1, 8, 9, 10: Monday, 12-1pm (face-to-face), Thursday 1-2pm (Teams)

Please email me in advance of an office hour to arrange a slot on Teams. No appointments needed for face-to-face meetings on Mondays.

Mr. Adam Challoner

Email: Adam dot Challoner at warwick dot ac dot uk

Office hours, term 1, weeks 2-7: H017 ground floor, Humanities Building; New Arts Building, quadrant B, L03.077
Office hours: Tuesday, 10-11am (Teams), Thursday 1-2pm (face-to-face)

Note on teaching:

The teaching on this module is shared by Michael Bycroft and Adam Challoner, as follows:

In week 1, MB will give the lecture and AC the seminar

In weeks 2 to 7, AC will give both the lectures and seminars

In week 8, AC will give the lecture and MB the seminar

In weeks 9 and 10, MB will give both lectures and seminars