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History of Science



This is a compulsory course for all first-year students.

Admission requirements

  • Class of 2017: None.

Course description

Science evidently plays a central role in the modern world. Every day we rely on science-based technology and the counsel of scientific experts on matters of public interest. Moreover, science informs our view of the world and of ourselves. To investigate how this situation came about, the present course covers over 2000 years of history of science and society. It provides a general overview of their complex interrelation, switching back and forth between often subtle and technical issues and major changes in worldviews, between the pondering minds of individual scientists and the cultural context in which they operated. Included among the subjects of the plenary lectures and seminars are: the birth of natural philosophy in ancient Greece, the assimilation of Aristotle in the Christian world of the Middle Ages, the Copernican revolution which profoundly altered our view of the universe, and the complex and often surprising roads of such formidable figures as Newton, Darwin and Einstein to their radically innovative theories. One of the major aims of this course is to go beyond the familiar myths of the history of science – e.g. the myth of the irresolvable conflict between science and religion, the myth of scientific discovery as a “eureka moment”, and the myth of the scientific method – and to learn about the complexities and contingencies of scientific practice and the interdependency of science and society. This is not only important for our understanding of the past, but equally so for our grip on the world of today.

Learning aims

  • The student has a general picture of the different scientific worldviews throughout history.

  • The student can reflect on the relation between science and culture.

  • The student is able to use examples from the history of science to illustrate how science works.

  • The student has developed a notion of history of science as an academic discipline.

Compulsory literature

Andrew Ede and Lesley B. Cormack, A History of Science in Society. From Philosophy to Utility. Second Edition (University of Toronto Press 2012). ISBN 978-1-4426-0446-9.

Andrew Ede and Lesley B. Cormack, A History of Science in Society: a Reader (University of Toronto Press 2011). ISBN 978-1-55111-770-6.

Both titles will be available for purchase from the Van Stockum (Herengracht 60, 2511 EJ Den Haag) branch in The Hague