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2020/21 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

HPSC5601M History & Theory of Modern Science Communication

30 creditsClass Size: 25

Module manager: Dr Jon Topham

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2020/21

This module is not approved as an Elective

Module summary

How have science, technology, and medicine been communicated to a wider public in the past? How have the processes and purposes of science communication changed over the last two centuries? What have been the consequences for science communication of the introduction of new media, ranging from the radio to the internet? This module addresses these questions by surveying the development of science communication since 1750, and by examining the changing theoretical perspectives that have underpinned these developments. Students will learn to re-examine the processes of contemporary science communication in the light of a deeper understanding of this history.


The module is designed to:

- outline the history of modern science communication, focusing on a range of different communication media and the ways in which they have been used;
- examine changing historical attitudes to the purpose and scope of science communication;
- explore different theoretical approaches to the processes and practices of science communication; and
- promote an advanced critical engagement with the theoretical and historiographical literature, in relation to the historical materials.

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module, students should be able to:

- show a historical awareness of the development of science communication in the modern era;
- demonstrate a critical understanding of the ways in which science and technology have been represented in the media;
- analyse the historical role of innovative media technologies in modifying public perceptions of science;
- articulate an understanding of specific historical controversies concerning the role of science in public culture; and
- evaluate different theoretical and historiographical approaches to science communication in relation to particular case studies.


This module will examine major themes in the history of science communication, including at least some of the following:

1. Theoretical perspectives on science communication;
2. Science communication at the end of the Enlightenment and the importance of notions of the public in the origins of modern science;
3. The development of new audiences for science in the nineteenth century and the emergence of new science communication media (e.g. mechanics' institutes, science journalism, public museums and zoos);
4. The advent of the figure of the scientist as public expert and the debate about 'Two Cultures';
5. The boom in new media during the twentieth century (e.g. TV, radio, press, and interactive museums) and their impact on science communication;
6. The growth of public scepticism about science—including the role of new media (e.g. internet) in democratizing science—and the attempts made to counteract such scepticism (e.g. the Public Understanding of Science movement).

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours278.00
Total Contact hours22.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)300.00

Private study

- Reading for seminars (6 hours/week) = 66 hours
- Preparing seminar presentations (2 x 15 hours) = 30 hours
- Reading over seminar notes (2 hours/week) = 22 hours
- Further Reading and Essay Preparation (2 x 32 hours) = 64 hours
- Essay Preparation (2 x 48 hours) = 96 hours

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Students will receive feedback:
- informally during the course of seminars, when the leader will respond to observations and questions;
- on assessed essays (one mid-term, one at the end of term), which will be returned with written comments within three weeks;
- informally during the office hours of the module teachers.

Methods of assessment

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay3000 words50.00
Essay3000 words50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 10/08/2020 08:44:10


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