Science and the Modern World

Tutors: Sabine Clarke and Chris Renwick

Module type: Histories and Contexts

Module Code: HIS00011I

During the past two centuries, science has helped transform not only the way we live but also our understanding of who we are. This module gives students the opportunity to investigate those transformations by exploring key episodes from the history of modern science, including the rise of fields such as genetics and the evolution of “big” science. In so doing, students will be encouraged to think about two interrelated sets of questions. The first concerns how scientific ideas, such as those associated with Sigmund Freud and Louis Pasteur, have changed the way we think about and organise society. The second set of questions relates to how science has been shaped by social forces, including political ideology and economic factors. By considering these issues, students will be introduced to a variety of different ways of studying science and, in the process, put current debates, such as those about funding for scientific research, into historical perspective.

The lecture programme will include the following themes:

  • Introduction: history of science and history of society – historiographical perspectives
  • Industrial medicine and social reform
  • Pasteur and the germ theory of disease
  • Darwin’s view of life
  • Darwinism and society
  • From Mendel to the Human Genome Project
  • The birth of psychological science and the emergence of the unconscious
  • Testing intelligence
  • Behaviourism and politics
  • Social Science and social solidarity
  • Poverty and social surveying
  • Mechanisation takes control? Taylorism and the social machine
  • Nuclear physics and the Manhattan project
  • The Manhattan project, the Cold War and “Big Science”
  • Two cultures? Science and the humanities during the 20th century
  • The science wars


Discussion groups will deal with the following:

  • Theorising the science/society relationship
  • Prevention or cure? Medicine, cities, and the modern home
  • Genetics, biology and ideology
  • Psychology and the modern individual
  • Poverty and social engineering
  • Taylorism and the modern workplace
  • Big science and the academic-military-industrial complex
  • Anti-science in the post-modern world