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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Why study the history of science, technology and medicine?

  • Why did nobody die of a heart attack before 1923?
  • Did the founding president of IBM really predict a future world market of "maybe five computers"?
  • Was Charles Darwin a Darwinist?
CHSTM 052-cancer-doll
Teaching aid, Royal Marsden Hospital, London, 2004. How did the role of 'play specialists' in providing information on surgical procedures to young children come about?

Science, technology and medicine are among the most significant and influential forms of knowledge and practice in modern society. Understanding how these activities have influenced society, and how society in turn has shaped their development, is thus an important task. A particularly effective way to acquire such understanding is through history: studying how and why science, technology and medicine change over time.

The history of science, technology and medicine (HSTM) has been taught at major universities in Britain, Europe and North America for about fifty years, and continues to attract students for a variety of reasons. Many sixth-form students have an interest in both science and arts subjects, and would like to continue studying both at degree level. Some are attracted by the particular historical questions we explore: when did globalisation begin and why? Why is medicine now dominated by a scientific perspective? How has our understanding of heredity been transformed over the last century? Others turn to HSTM in order to gain perspective on contemporary issues: for instance, the pros and cons of nuclear power, the increasing reliance upon computers in society, or the introduction of genetically modified organisms.

Studying HSTM opens a wide range of career possibilities. Employers in fields including science museum work and science journalism may seek a specific background in HSTM, owing to the particular contextual understanding which the discipline provides. The unusual combination of abilities developed by HSTM graduates, matching scientific literacy to the skills traditionally associated with arts degrees (eg, familiarity with library resources, writing and debating skills), also qualifies them for a range of managerial and research-oriented professions including environmental agencies, health service administration and technical publishing. Some of the destinations of our MSc and research students are listed on this site.

So why study HSTM? Because the subject matter is fascinating, and the skills it confers allow you plenty of career options.

Some recommended introductory texts

Peter Bowler and Iwan Morus, Making Modern Science: a historical survey. Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2005.

David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old: technology and global history since 1900. London: Profile 2006.

Christopher Frayling, Mad, Bad and Dangerous? The scientist and the cinema. London: Reaktion 2005.

John Henry, The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science. Basingstoke: Macmillan 1997.

Jeff Hughes, The Manhattan Project: big science and the atom bomb. Cambridge: Icon 2002.

Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch, The Golem: what everyone should know about science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1993.

Thomas J Misa, Leonardo to the Internet: technology and culture from the Renaissance to the present. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 2004.

Crosbie Smith and Ben Marsden, Engineering Empires: a cultural history of technology in nineteenth-century Britain. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2005

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