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Themes in the History of Science, Technology, Environment and Society (HI999)


Dr James Poskett


How can we understand the social and natural world in which we live? Concepts such as ‘nature’, ‘race’, ‘the body’, ‘the economy’, or ‘society’ help us to classify and order the endless phenomena in the material and natural world that we encounter every day. Yet while such concepts are vital, and seem fixed, transhistorical and objective, they emerged at particular moments in history, their meanings changed, and they were often deployed for particular purposes.

This module investigates the rise, changing meanings and purposes of such ordering concepts and the practices which go with them. It also explores how such concepts and practices reflected the social, economic, and political contexts in which they emerged and flourished. Drawing on the extensive expertise of colleagues in the Department who work on the interrelation of society and culture with science, technology, medicine, environment, economics, and political economy, this module will introduce students to ongoing human practices of order and meaning-making, our struggles to makes sense of the human and natural world and the many moral, and the ethical dilemma that accompany them.

Please check individual weeks for seminar time, day, and location. Unless otherwise indicated, seminars are 3-5pm, Mondays, in Room P5.21. But a few seminars (see below) are on different days/times and/or will take place online.

Please note: due to the new national lockdown, all seminars will be held online until at least the end of Week 6.


Week 1. Slavery (Poskett) Usual Time. Online. MS Teams.

Week 2. Nature (Bycroft) Usual Time. Online. MS Teams.

Week 3. Human Nature (Stein) 10-12, Thursday, 28th January 2021. Online. MS Teams.

Week 4. Race (Poskett) Usual Time. Online. MS Teams.

Week 5. Economy (Bycroft) Usual Time. Online. MS Teams.

Week 6. Reading Week

Week 7. Boundaries (Bivins) 10-12, Thursday 25th February 2021. Online. MS Teams.

Week 8. Industry (Berg) Usual Time. Online. MS Teams.

Week 9. Body (Shaw) 10-12, Tuesday, 9 March 2021. Online. MS Teams.

Week 10. Energy (Shafiee) Usual Time. Online. MS Teams.

Reading List

See individual weeks and Talis Aspire.


6,000 word essay. Deadlines are available on the Postgraduate Submission Deadlines and Procedure page.

Essays should follow a similar format to that of your Themes core module. For the title, please either select a seminar question, adapt a seminar question, or develop your own title. This should be done in consultation with the relevant seminar tutor. You may also wish to consult the module convenor regarding your choice of title.

Term Spring
Day Mondays (except Weeks 3, 7, and 9)
Time 3–5pm (except Weeks 3, 7 and 9)
Room P5.21 (except Weeks 1-3, 7 and 9)