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2023/24 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HPSC2150 History of Science in 10 Objects

20 creditsClass Size: 60

Module manager: Dr Adrian Wilson

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2023/24

This module is mutually exclusive with

HPSC2111Reading Text: History of Ideas
HPSC2115Introduction to Reading Texts

Module replaces

HPSC2111 Reading Texts in the History of Ideas

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

How do historians learn about science’s past? At its heart, it always comes down to the objects that survive: books, letters, notebooks, instruments, and other artefacts. In this module, we open up science’s past for you by teaching you how to read and interpret scientific objects as both historical products and historical evidence. Each week, we will explore a key moment in the history of science (e.g. Faraday’s discovery of electromagnetism or the unravelling of DNA’s double helix) by getting close and personal with one of the objects that survive. And as we do so, you will learn about how to make sense of those historical objects, asking how they came to be made (who wrote or made it, and why?) and how they came to be used. The abilities which this module fosters are foundational for the historian of science but they are also applicable in a wide range of careers.


The module is designed to introduce students to some key moments in the history of science using a wide range of books, manuscripts, instruments, and other objects. In so doing, it is intended to teach them how to read historical texts and to interpret material objects from the history of science with appropriate sensitivity to their purposes and form.

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

a) understanding of a number of key episodes in the history of science;
b) knowledge of, and an ability to apply, the basic skills of textual exegesis;
c) the ability to interpret material objects as historical products;
d) the capacity for critical interrogation of historical evidence.

Skills outcomes
This module teaches some of the core skills of the historian, notably the ability to interpret historical objects, both textual and non-textual, in relation to their historical context.


The course will focus on ten objects from the history of science, some of them textual (e.g. Faraday’s experimental notebooks), some of them non-textual (e.g. Astbury’s camera, held here at Leeds, which produced the first X-ray diffraction image of DNA). Each object will first be introduced by a lecture on its origin and context and will then be discussed further in seminars.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours178.00
Total Contact hours22.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Preparatory reading per seminar 11 x 6 hours
Researching and writing blog post 18 hours
Essay preparation and writing 50 hours
Further reading 44 hours

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Students will have the opportunity to submit a 500 word essay plan connected to their chosen essay question and will receive feedback on their contribution/s to online discussion boards. Students will receive verbal comments on their understanding and progress in seminars, and be able to visit staff during office hours or arranged meetings throughout the semester.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay3000 word essay (end of module)100.00
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: 28/04/2023 14:44:02


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