Skip to main content

Unit information: Progress or Peril? The History of Science, Technology and Medicine in 2020/21

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Progress or Peril? The History of Science, Technology and Medicine
Unit code HIST20113
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Stephen Mawdsley
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

Human societies have been shaped and reshaped by an innate desire to control and make sense of a complex world. From fighting disease to exploring the moon, science, technology, and medicine, have served as building blocks of human innovation. However, far from contributing to steady progress, these building blocks have also been sites of contested knowledge and power.

This unit explores major themes at the intersection of science, technology, and medicine. Students will engage with shifting ideas about the human body and disease, as well as be introduced to a range of medical theories and treatments that moved in and out of fashion. The unit will also explore how scientific knowledge was created and the philosophies that shaped technological innovation.

By drawing on historical case studies, students will gain a deeper understanding of how scientific, technological, and medical knowledge was created and debated, as well as how such ideas were applied and challenged.

Students will read a wide range of primary and secondary sources to develop a deeper and critical understanding of science, technology, and medicine. By engaging with a range of sources, students will improve their research skills, public speaking skills, and knowledge of history.

Teaching will proceed on a modular basis with each lecture devoted to a different historical theme. Each seminar will focus on an assigned source related to the lectures.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of major themes in the history of science, technology, and medicine
  2. Respond critically to the terms and approaches used by historians to analyse these three fields
  3. Critically evaluate the key historiographical debates surrounding the topics
  4. Interpret primary sources and select pertinent evidence in order to illustrate specific and more general historical points
  5. Present their research and judgements in written and oral forms and styles appropriate to the discipline and to level I

Teaching Information

Classes will involve a combination of long- and short-form lectures, class discussion, investigative activities, and practical activities. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. This will be further supported with drop-in sessions and self-directed exercises with tutor and peer feedback.

Assessment Information

1 x 2500-word Essay (50%) [ILOs 1-5]; 1 x Timed Assessment (50%) [ILOs 1-5]; 1 x Formative Oral Presentation [ILO 5]

Reading and References

Harry Marks, The Progress of Experiment: Science and Therapeutic Reform in the United States, 1900-1990. (Cambridge University Press, 2000).

Thomas P. Hughes, American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm, 1870-1970 (University of Chicago Press, 1989; 2004).

Roy Porter, Flesh in the Age of Reason: The Modern Foundations of Body and Soul (W. W. Norton, 2005).

Deborah Harkness, The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution (Yale University Press, 2008)

Lisa Jardine, Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution (Doubleday, 1999).

Ruth Schwartz Cowan and Matthew H. Hersch, A Social History of American Technology (Oxford University Press, 2017).