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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Communicating ideas in science, technology and medicine

HSTM60571 (15 credits)

Semester One

Classes: one three-hour session, Wednesday mornings, Weeks 1-5

Contact: Dr James Sumner

The unit aims to:

    introduce students to key research methodologies relating to history, policy and communication in science, technology and medicine
    • enable students to analyse critically key methods and techniques used by researchers
    • provide students with practical insights into research and writing, through the experience of current researchers
    • build awareness and skill in adapting writing and oral presentation style and technique to different audiences and formats
    • develop skills in the use of material objects as sources of evidence and tools for public communication
    • develop skills in drafting and editing of texts
    • develop skills in oral presentation.

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

    • understand key research methodologies relating to history, policy and communication in science, technology and medicine
    • critically and comparatively appraise source texts
    • identify and analyse critically a variety of different methodological approaches to research and argument
    • select and apply appropriate approaches to particular research questions
    • understand and begin to apply the practical skills required in professional research, from question formulation to publication
    • read for research, including skim-reading, source prioritisation, and following up references
    • compose and edit texts presenting the same content for different audiences, and reflect critically on the editing process and audience engagement
    • discuss research material orally, and respond to questions or comments from others
    • summarise and critically interpret the results of research
    • contribute to group discussion


    This assessed unit has two main roles: to provide guidance and experience in writing and oral presentation (supplementing the more basic coverage provided on zero-credit skills units), and to introduce students to a variety of approaches to research. The unit is required on the three MSc pathways in History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Medical Humanities, and Science Communication, and the case coverage will be drawn from across the disciplinary approaches covered by these programmes, with an emphasis on shared themes of expertise and communication.

    The research skills element will draw on the experience and current work of local staff and research students, with sessions focusing on the application of theoretical approaches (for instance, reading for gender; the user/patient turn in history of technology/medicine; the heritage validity debate and its relevance to public presentation) and research practices (such as oral history interviewing or working with material artefacts). The communication element will focus particularly on writing and preparing talks/presentations as a developmental and iterative process, and on the need to consider and engage with multiple audiences with different priorities and preconceptions.

    The exact content of the course will vary from year to year, but is likely to include some or all of the following:

    Research methods

    Framing a research question
    Investigating sources and evidence
    Using visual sources
    Working with popular and fictional media
    Oral history
    Gender, identity and authority
    Geographies of knowledge
    Research ethics

    Communication skills

    Writing and editing as an iterative process
    Writing for specific audiences and formats
    Oral presentation
    Engaging with public audiences
    Broadcast communication



    One coursework literature review, 1500 words: 50%

    One coursework assignment based on a research finding relevant to the student’s core programme/pathway: two summaries of the same material prepared for different audiences, 1500 to 2000 words total: 50%

    A comprehensive reading list is distributed at the beginning of the course. Useful introductory reading includes:

    • William Cronon et al, Learning to do historical research online at [].

    • Wayne C Booth et al, The Craft of Research. Third edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

    • Howard S Becker, Tricks of the Trade: How to Think about your Research while you’re Doing It. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

    • Susan M Pearce, Museums, objects and collections: a cultural study. Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1992.
    • Sylvan Barnet et al, A Short Guide to College Writing. Fifth edition. New York: Pearson Longman, 2013.


    The seminar discussion format of the course gives all students regular opportunities to discuss their ideas with teaching staff. Staff are also available to discuss essay proposals, seminar performance, and general course performance by appointment, on a one-to-one basis. All coursework is double-marked, and essay scripts are returned to the students with both sets of markers’ comments.


    This is a team-taught course, and will feature contributions from all the active lecturing staff at CHSTM. Full details will be provided on arrival.