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Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1 hour / session

Recitations: 1 session / week, 1 hour / session


This course will study the development of modern science from the seventeenth century to the present, focusing on Europe and the United States. Key questions include: What is science, and how is it done? How are discoveries made and accepted? What is the nature of scientific progress? What is the impact of science on society? What is the impact of society on science? Topics will be drawn from the histories of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, and medicine.


This class requires 1) active participation in both lectures and weekly recitation sections, 2) a series of written assignments, and 3) a midterm and final exam.

Recitation Sections

Each week's readings must be read prior to recitation section. Active participation in the discussions is required.

Weekly Writing Exercises

A short (roughly 300 words) reading response assignment must be submitted prior to each recitation.


Two papers are required, each roughly 2000 words (7-8 pages). The papers must be submitted prior to Ses #12 and #24, respectively.

For research consultations, you can meet with MIT's reference librarian for History of Science and Technology.


There will be closed-book midterm and final exams, based on material from both lectures and readings.


Final grades will be based on:

Participation 15%
Weekly writing 20%
Paper 1 10%
Midterm 15%
Paper 2 20%
Final exam 20%


Required Books

Two books are required.

Amazon logo Bowler, Peter J., and Iwan Rhys Morus. Making Modern Science: A Historical Survey. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780226068619.

Amazon logo Frayn, Michael. Copenhagen. New York, NY: Anchor, 2000. ISBN: 9780385720793.

Class Schedule

Week 1. The legacy of the scientific revolution
1 Introduction: the rise of modern science  
2 The legacy of the scientific revolution  
Weeks 2-3. Enlightenment science
3 Science in the enlightenment  
4 Natural history and colonialism Week 2 response due
5 Enlightenment chemistry Week 3 response due
Weeks 4-5. The nineteenth century: organism and mechanism
6 Romantic science  
7 The science of life Week 4 response due
8 Thermodynamics and the industrial revolution  
9 Physics and the telegraph Week 5 response due
Weeks 6-7. Evolution
10 Darwin and natural selection  
11 Evolution and society Week 6 response due
12 Scientific medicine Paper 1 due
  Midterm exam  
Weeks 8-9. Fin-de-siècle and the crisis of objectivity
13 The image of objectivity  
14 Freud and the science of the mind Week 8 response due
15 Relativity theory and Swiss clocks  
16 Quantum mechanics and postwar culture Week 9 response due
Weeks 10-11. Science and war
17 Science and World War II  
18 Sputnik and the origins of the space race Week 10 response due
19 Physics and the cold war Week 11 response due
Weeks 12-13. Genetics and society
20 Eugenics  
21 Molecular biology Week 12 response due
22 The race for the human genome  
23 Genetic engineering Week 13 response due
Week 14. Science in the 21st century
24 Science in the 21st century Paper 2 due
25 Course overview