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2008/09 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HPSC3112 Advanced Topic in the History of Science

20 creditsClass Size: 100

In light of the effect of COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions on students' learning experiences, the School of PRHS have made the decision to modify assessment in Semester 2 modules in the 2020-21 academic year. Changes may involve reducing the number of assessment points (e.g. assessing one essay rather than two) or reducing word counts where it is possible to do so whilst protecting the integrity of the module's Learning Outcomes. Information on any changes to assessment is available to enrolled students in the Minerva module area, and can also be sought from the module leader or the PRHS SES team.

Module manager: Dr Simone Turchetti

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2008/09

Pre-requisite qualifications

20 credits in Level 2 HPSC modules OR 40 credits Level 2 HIST modules

This module is approved as an Elective

Module summary

How have new scientific theories arisen? What difficulties have scientists encountered in gaining acceptance for their approaches? How have contemporaries responded to the challenge? To what extent have theories arisen from or modified wider social and cultural concerns? These are the kinds of questions considered by this course. Taking a particular scientific innovation (like Netwonian mechanics or the early nineteenth-century attempts to reformulate the sciences around the concept of law-like progress) the module looks in depth at how the theory arose, how it related to competing theories, how it was viewed by contemporaries, and what issues arose in its acceptance or rejection. These questions are handled in a wide historical context, including a wide range of cultural, religious, political, and social aspects. The course allows students to develop their critical historical skills in the history of science. In particular, you will get the chance to examine first-hand some of the writings of scientists and commentators in the light of standard historical works on the subject. Weekly classes will take place throughout Semester 1, and will involve an hour's lecture followed by an hour's seminar to discuss the issues in more detail. You will need to have an understanding of the general historiographical perspective of the history of science, and will thus normally be expected to have studied at least 20 credits of History and Philosophy of Science at Level 2. For further information, contact Kate Hickson in the School of Philosophy office:


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

- demonstrate an understanding of the main historical issues and episodes relating to a major advanced topic in the History of Science;
- demonstrate a good knowledge of the main primary sources on that topic;
- demonstrate a broad and critical understanding of the main secondary sources that discuss that topic;
- demonstrate an awareness of the historiographical traditions underpinning the different interpretations available in the secondary literature.


This module will focus on a major development in science centred on a new and important scientific theory; for example, Newtonian mechanics, Darwin's theory of evolution, or the mid-nineteenth century attempts to reformulate science around the concept of energy. In each case we will examine the problems raised by earlier theories, the rise and challenge of the new theory, and its scientific successes and difficulties. The study will be historically contextualised, paying attention to social, technological and philosophical interconnections.

Teaching will be by two-hour seminar, allowing for extensive discussion of the issues. Key primary texts will be analysed closely. Not only will the course draw critically on the available secondary literature, but students will engage the broader historiographical traditions that inform current interpretations.

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 hours178.00
Total Contact hours22.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

10 hours reading each week in connection with the seminar: 110 hours;
Preparing seminar presentation: 11 hours;
Preparing and writing essay: 35 hours;
Revising for exam: 38 hours.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Verbal feedback from seminar presentations;
Essay to be submitted at end of week 6 will be marked promptly and returned to student with extensive comments.

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
Essay2,000 words to be submitted at the end of week 650.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)50.00

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

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Standard exam (closed essays, MCQs etc)1 hr 30 mins50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)50.00

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: 13/08/2008


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