Skip to main content Skip to navigation


Tutor: Michael Bycroft (

The global history of science, like other fields of global history, is flourishing but controversial. There are several different ways of understanding science as a global phenomenon. The traditional approach is to maintain that science as we know it began in Europe in the seventeenth century and spread or "diffused" to the rest of the world in the following three centuries. Against this view, more recent authors have argued that the origins of science cannot be located in any particular place because science develops through the movement or "circulation" of ideas, people and objects around the globe. Circulation is not the only game in town, however. Some historians continue to believe that science emerged in early modern Europe, and that the comparison of different intellectual cultures -- the comparison of Chinese and European cultures, for example -- can help to explain this development. Other historians question the idea of circulation in a different way, pointing out that not everything circulates all the time, and that the historian of science should account for stasis as well as motion. The readings include abstract discussions of these approaches as well as concrete examples of global history of science.


Read the Basalla piece and at least one of the other pieces (the two papers by Sivasundaram count as one piece). Come to the seminar prepared to summarise the "other" piece(s) you have read for the rest of the class, bearing in mind that several students will not have read the same "others" as you have read. Also, think about these questions:

What is the diffusionist theory of science?

What does this theory get wrong?

What, if anything, does the theory get right?


Basalla, George. “The Spread of Western Science.” Science 156, no. 3775 (1967): 611–22 - readily available online

Cohen, Floris. 2015. The Rise of Modern Science Explained (Cambridge UP) - Warwick e-book, read chapter 1 ('To begin at the beginning'). Don't be daunted by the length of this chapter - there are relatively few words per page, and Cohen writes in an accessible style

Raj, Kapil. Relocating Modern Science: Circulation and the Construction of Knowledge in South Asia and Europe, 1650-1900. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007 - Warwick e-book, read the Introduction and Chapter 1 (Surgeons, Fakirs, Merchants, and Craftsmen...).

Sivasundaram, Sujit. “Sciences and the Global: On Methods, Questions, and Theory.” Isis 101, no. 1 (March 1, 2010): 146–58 - Warwick e-journal

--------, “Islanded: Natural History in the British Colonisation of Ceylon,” in Livingstone, David N., and Charles W. J. Withers, eds. Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011 - Warwick e-book