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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Science and the modern world

HSTM10221 (10-credit); HSTM10721 (20-credit)
UCOL10221 (10-credit); UCOL10721 (20-credit)

Semester One, Mondays, 15.00-17.00

Contact: Dr Simone Turchetti


To provide a general introduction to science as a central part of our cultural, economic and political life. To explore the place of science and scientific knowledge in human affairs through a study of its historical and social context. To introduce students from all backgrounds to different ways of thinking about science in the past and the present through the use of a variety of resources and media, including literature and film. In addition, the 20 credit unit aims to give students the opportunity of exploring in detail some aspect of the relationship between science and the modern world through an individually supervised research project.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Students will have an appreciation of the complexity of the modern sciences in the broad context of their historical development; understand a range of ways of thinking about the sciences and contemporary society and the relationships between them; be able to reflect critically on the role of the sciences in modern culture; develop their communication and group-working skills; in addition, the 20 credit unit will extend and develop their research and writing skills through an individual research project.

Lecture Content

Lectures form a connected series of case studies of various aspects of science in society and culture, based on the following themes:

  • What is Science? Trust and Authority
  • Truth and Method
  • God and Nature
  • Politics and Ideology
  • Strange Science and Controversies
  • Gender and Science
  • Science and Money
  • Risk and Post-normal Science
  • Science and Democracy

Seminars consolidate lecture material through a set weekly reading. Students are required to answer a short series of questions based on the set text; these questions form the basis of the seminar discussion.


Both lecture and seminar content are assessed by:
10 credit unit (HSTM10221) - 1,000-word essay (50% of overall mark), a 1.5 hour exam (50% of overall mark)
20 credit unit (HSTM10721) - 1,000-word essay (25% of overall mark), a 1.5 hour exam (25% of overall mark) and a 3,000-word individual research project (50% of overall mark).


Students may ask questions at any time during lectures and seminars. Teaching staff can usually answer specific queries by email or during office hours, and will provide contact details in the course handbook or at lectures. All submitted coursework will be returned with annotations and comments on Blackboard explainig the rationale for the marks given. All feedback on written coursework will be given within two weeks time, unless otherwise specified.

Employability Skills

  • Critical analysis and independent evaluation of arguments in relevant literature.
  • Communication skills developed during seminars.
  • Effective writing skills (abstract summaries) and extended composition for Essays. Independent research, time management and organization of data for Projects.
  • Team work in preparation for in seminars.
  • Effective learning and revision techniques.

Oral Communication - Students do not have a formal oral presentation in this unit but they are asked to read a text for the seminars during which an oral interaction takes form of a discussion on a topic of relevance for science and society issues - usually on a topical issue such as the role of commercialization or patenting on biological research, or the role of lab work in the production of biological knowledge. The seminars are lively and sometimes demanding in that they require the skills of real-time dialoguing and defending opposing cases.

Written Communication
1. Non-assessed one paragraph summaries of the readings which are used to provide students with feedback on their reading and writing abilities. These abstracts are meant to introduce skills that could be applied in essay writing.
2. Essays on select topics, precirculated. The essays are 1000 words long and are meant to enable students to produce a short but coherent review of the arguments related to the theme and venture into developing their own views on the subject.
Innovation/Creativity - Essays are based on students’s own interests and ideas and it is the requirement of the unit that they offer their own views on existing debates or issues. This ethos is further strengthened by the class discussions in which a controlled improvisation is necessary to produce a viable argument. The key in all such exercises is the ability to understand the logic of sustainable claims with relevance to non-scientific discourse.
Research - Students perform research for essays. The are given a list of initial readings but are not fed into reproducing the consensus. They are told how to use databases, how to avoid unreliable public domain resources and how to develop the criteria for judging the quality of academic work.
Analytical skills
Analytical skills are at the core of all the above exercises.



Recommended Reading

  • Bowler PJ & Morus I Making Modern Science University of Chicago Press 2005
  • Jerry Ravetz, The No-nonsense Guide to Science, Oxford 2006.
  • Collins H and Pinch T The Golem: What Everyone Should Know About Science Cambridge University Press1998

 Teaching Staff

Dr Simone Turchetti


A recent copy of the course outline is available to view (pdf). Please note that course content may change in the next academic year.