Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2007-2008 (archived)

Module PHIL40330: History of Science

Department: Philosophy

PHIL40330: History of Science

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2007/08
Tied to


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • to contextualise the scientific enterprise with reference to its different institutional and cultural contexts
  • to introduce the characteristic features of ancient, early modern, and modern science
  • to trace the historical changes and continuities of scientific knowledge and practice
  • to delineate and differentiate essential sources, tools and historiographies relevant to a postgraduate history of science research essay.


  • The seminars will cover major areas of history of science. Following an introductory session, these areas will be treated in seven chronological seminars:
  • The introductory seminar session will make students familiar with arguments why a historical perspective is important for science. The historical contingency of scientific knowledge and practices will be illustrated and discussed through a case study.
  • Historical shifts in scientific thinking will be traced in six chronologically arranged seminars: the Aristotelian universe, the scientific revolution and the partial mathematisation of nature, the Enlightenment and the classification of nature, modernity and human evolution, post-modernity and Big Science.
  • In consultation with the Module Leader, students will choose a topic for their assessed Essay. The essay's topic should normally come from one of the subject areas covered in the seminars. Topic proposals falling outside these areas will have to be approved by the Course Director.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of the module students should have:
  • an understanding of science in specific cultural contexts and historical periods;
  • a familiarity with key historical texts and ideas relevant to the history of experimentation, evidentiary reasoning, classification, matter theory, cosmology and scientific institutions.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • By the end of the module students should be able to:
  • evaluate different historiographical interpretations of key developments in the history od scientific disciplines and methods;
  • demonstrate skills in the historical interpretation of sources relating to natural philosophy, natural history and the natural sciences;
  • write a critical and well-researched essay on a selected topic from the history of science.
Key Skills:

    Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

    • This module will be taught in 7 two-hour group seminars, and with individual tutorial sessions on the topic of the assessed essay. In addition, draft versions of the assessed essay will be presented in the one-day workshop before submission.
    • Each of the two-hour seminars will be lead by the lecturer. The seminars include a short introduction to the topic by the lecturer; students' historical interpretation of selected sources; students' short presentations of key primary and/or secondary literature; and joint critical discussion of pre-read research publications (partly in group work).
    • The individual tutorials (entitlement of up to 4 contact hours with the chosen supervisor) will support the student's work towards the assessed essay. They include discussion of the chosen research/essay topic; guidance on relevant research methods and literature; development of a research plan and time-table; and feedback on essay drafts.
    • In the workshop (up to 8 hours) students will present draft versions of their essay and discuss them with their fellow-students and the lecturer.
    • These teaching and learning methods will support students in achieving Learning Outcomes 1-5 above. The 5 Learning Outcomes will be formally assessed by the essay.
    • Though optional, students will also be expected to attend the research seminars, workshops or special lectures organized by the Department of Philosophy and the Centre for the History of Medicine and Disease.
    • Students will also have the opportunity to attend on a voluntary basis the seminars for the MA in History of Medicine at the University of Newcastle.

    Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

    Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
    Tutorials up to 4 Flexible as required 1 hour 4
    Seminars 7 weekly 2 hours 14
    Other (Workshop) 1 once 8 hours 8
    Preparation and Reading 274
    Total 300

    Summative Assessment

    Component: Assessed Essay Component Weighting: 100%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    Essay 5,000 words 100%

    Formative Assessment:

    Short formative essay of 2,000 words on a topic distinct from that of the summative essay.

    Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University