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The Scientific Revolution, 1500-1700 - HIS00127I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Sophie Weeks
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

Focusing on Europe between 1500 and 1700, this module explores the striking changes in people's beliefs about nature and the way they acquired these beliefs. New ideas emerged about the structure of the cosmos, the workings of the human body, and the building blocks of matter. New scientific instruments, such as telescopes, microscopes, and air pumps, transformed the investigation of nature and opened up new worlds for human observation.

We consider some of the key figures who shaped the development of early modern science. For example, Copernicus's theory of a sun-centred universe, the so-called Galileo affair, William Harvey's discovery that the blood circulates around the body, and Isaac Newton’s “theory of everything”. We ask questions such as: What are the continuities and discontinuities with the ancient classical heritage? What was the nature of the relationship between science and religion? What role did magic and alchemy play in the development of science? How is this period of intellectual and cultural transformation best characterised? Is the concept of a scientific revolution still useful?

This module is an introduction to the history of science and no scientific background is required.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To provide students with the opportunity to study particular historical topics in depth
  • To develop students’ ability to examine a topic from a range of perspectives and to strengthen their ability to work critically and reflectively with secondary and primary material

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Have acquired a deep knowledge of the specific topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to use and synthesise a range of primary and secondary sources
  • Be able to evaluate the arguments that historians have made about the topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to study independently through seminar-based teaching

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 1-hour plenary/lecture and a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 1. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW) during which there are no seminars. Students prepare for and participate in eight 1-hour plenaries/lectures and eight 2-hour seminars in all.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. The Aristotelian world picture
  2. Copernicus's sun-centred system
  3. The Galileo affair
  4. William Harvey and the circulation of the blood
  5. Magic and the origins of modern science
  6. New scientific instruments
  7. Isaac Newton’s “theory of everything”
  8. Was there a Scientific Revolution?


Task Length % of module mark
Assessed Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students will complete a referenced 1200 to 1500-word essay relating to the themes and issues of the module. This will be submitted in either the Week 5 or Week 9 RAW week (on the day of the weekly seminar).

For summative assessment, students will complete an Assessed Essay (2000 words, footnoted). This will comprise 100% of the overall module mark.

Summative assessments will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Assessed Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will typically receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • Peter Dear, Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and its Ambitions, 1500-1700, 3rd edition, (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2019).
  • Lawrence Principe, The Scientific Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: OUP, 2011).
  • Steven Shapin, The Scientific Revolution (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.