Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST30T3: Engineering Armageddon: Visions of Scientific Apocalypse

Department: History

HIST30T3: Engineering Armageddon: Visions of Scientific Apocalypse

Type Open Level 3 Credits 60 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • • A pass mark in at least TWO level two modules in History.


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To familiarize students with a variety of perspectives about the roles, responsibilities, limits, and authority of science as a social and cultural institution
  • To sensitize students to the way science and technology functions in historical and cultural contexts
  • To develop students’ facility viewing both historical and contemporary cultural media—literature, visual art, film, etc.—from a critical perspective
  • To acquaint students with the distinctive methods, questions, and problems of the history of science and technology
  • To contribute towards meetings the generic aims of Level III study in History.


  • Since the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, periods of ambivalence about science and technology have marked Western cultural expression. Science has simultaneously offered the prospect of progress and the specter of chaos. Faced with this tension, cultural critics of science and technology have often employed apocalyptic imagery, invoking the human capacity for self-ruin to articulate the power scientific knowledge represents, to highlight its potential danger, and to explore its limits. Scientists have also wrestled with the gulf between the noble pursuit of knowledge and the ignoble ways in which that knowledge is sometimes applied. This course explores the history of this anxiety by examining visions of scientific apocalypse in popular and literature, film, and visual art alongside responses from those deeply invested in science and technology. The course proceeds chronologically through nineteenth-century Romanticism, fin-de-siècle agitation, Cold War fear, and twenty-first-century techno-futurism. Through novels, plays, stories, poems, paintings, photographs, films, and scientists’ writings, students will engage with major questions that have mediated the relationship between science, technology, and society: How and why do popular and professional conceptions of scientific responsibility and authority differ? What ethical considerations should guide scientific and technological progress? Where is the boundary between the artificial and the natural and how should we negotiate it? Who should mediate the advance and dissemination of scientific knowledge? The course will ask how responses to these questions have appeared within specific scientific and cultural contexts. At the same time, the course material will reveal a legacy of cultural criticism that continues to influence modern responses to science and technology.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A thorough understanding of cultural responses to scientific and technological change over the past two centuries
  • An ability to manipulate a range of primary sources, including scientific writings, visual and object sources, and fiction
  • A critical attitude toward the relationships between science, technology, and society and the way they appear in both popular and scientific media
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/ModuleProformaMap/
Key Skills:
  • Key skills for this module can be viewed at:http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/ModuleProformaMap/

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

  • Student learning is facilitated by a combination of the following teaching methods:
  • seminars to allow students to present and critically reflect upon the acquired subject-specific knowledge, methodologies and theories, and to identify and debate a range of issues and differing opinions. The seminar is the forum in which students are given the opportunity to communicate ideas, jointly exploring themes and arguments. Seminars are structured to develop understanding and designed to maximise student participation related to prior independent preparation. Seminars give students the opportunity to develop oral communication skills, encourage critical and tolerant approaches to reasoned argument and historical discussion, build the students' ability to marshal historical evidence, and facilitate the development of the ability to summarise historical arguments, think in a rapidly changing environment and communicate in a persuasive and articulate manner, whilst recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals;
  • tutorials either individually or in groups to discuss topics arising from prepared work, allowing students the opportunity to reflect upon their personal learning with the tutor.
  • Assessment:
  • Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure under timed conditions, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The unseen examination gives students the opportunity to develop relevant life skills such as the ability to produce coherent, reasoned and supported arguments under pressure. Students will be examined on subject specific knowledge;
  • Summative essays remain a central component of assessment in history, due to the integrative high-order skills they develop. Essays allow students the opportunity to recognise, represent and critically reflect upon ideas, concepts and problems; students can demonstrate awareness of, and the ability to use and evaluate, a diverse range of resources and identify, represent and debate a range of subject-specific issues and opinions. Through the essay, students can synthesise information, adopt critical appraisals and develop reasoned argument based on individual research; they should be able to communicate ideas in writing, with clarity and coherence; and to show the ability to integrate and critically assess material from a wide range of sources;
  • Assessment of Primary Source Handling Students are assessed on their understanding of original primary sources, usually in print, their character varying according to the nature of the subject, and the students' ability to bring that knowledge to bear on 'cutting edge' research-based monographs and articles. Students are given the opportunity to discuss and articulate an understanding of changing interpretations and approaches to historical problems, drawing evidence from a body of primary source materials. Students are required to demonstrate skills associated with the evaluation of a variety of primary source materials, using documentary analysis for a critical assessment of existing historical interpretations.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Tutorials 2 Termly in terms 1 & 2 30 mins 1
Seminars 19 Weekly in Terms 1 & 2 3 hours 57
Revision Sessions 1 Revision 2 hours 2
Preparation 540

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 3000 words 34%
Essay 2 3000 words 34%
Source Analyses 3000 words 32%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Seen open book examination 3 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

One formative essay of not more than 2500 words (not including footnotes and bibliography); preparation to participate in seminar and tutorials; at least one oral presentation, and practice source/gobbet work.

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