The Rise of Science (EAS3237)

StaffDr Felicity Henderson - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

In the modern world, the discourse of science is dominant – but this was not always the case. In this module you will read some of the first texts of the scientific revolution, as well as satires that mocked the new science, and the first work of science fiction in English. The module aims to explore the evolution of ideas about knowledge from the Renaissance to the early 18th century. We will see how new ideas about the natural world were communicated by scientists, and how they were incorporated into the literature of the period. We will also ask how scientists were influenced by more literary writers, and how they constructed their own image as scientists. We will link all this with the period’s increasing interest in the individual, and the rise of the novel. You will encounter some scientific ideas on this module, but you will not need to have a detailed understanding of them in order to study these texts.


The library at Exeter Cathedral has an excellent collection of early-modern scientific and medical books, and we will be using their collections in some of our workshops. These workshops will be held off-campus at the Exeter Cathedral Library.


ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate knowledge of early-modern scientific writing and literary responses to it
  • 2. Discuss these works in relation to contemporary debates about the construction of knowledge

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse the literature of the early-modern period and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its historical context
  • 4. Demonstrate an advanced ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. Through essay-writing demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, an advanced capacity to construct a coherent, logical and substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose
  • 6. Through other writing tasks demonstrate an ability to communicate complex ideas effectively to a broad non-academic audience.

Syllabus plan



Week 1.

Renaissance knowledge and power: Shakespeare, The Tempest


Visions of a new world


Week 2.

Utopia of the scientific state: Francis Bacon, New Atlantis


Week 3.

Astronomy in the popular imagination: Francis Godwin, The Man in the Moone


Week 4.

Microscopes and metaphors: Robert Hooke, Micrographia (extracts) and Donne, poems


Characters and caricatures: scientific self-fashioning


Week 5.

Attacks on science I: Margaret Cavendish, The Blazing World


Week 6.

Science strikes back: Philosophical Transactions (extracts); Thomas Sprat, The History of the Royal Society of London


Week 7.

Attacks on science II: Thomas Shadwell, The Virtuoso


Constructing knowledge


Week 8.

Refuting myth: Thomas Browne, Pseudodoxia Epidemica (extracts)


Week 9.

Self-observation and subjectivity: Samuel Pepys, Diary (extracts)


Week 10.

Narrative power: Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe


Week 11.

New mythologies: William Stukeley, Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life; portraits of Isaac Newton



Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities33Seminars
Guided Independent Study33Study group preparation and meetings
Guided Independent Study70Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided Independent Study164Reading, research and essay preparation

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Blog post15750 words1-6Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Essay352000 words1-5Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Essay503250 words1-5Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Blog PostBlog Post1-6Referral/Deferral Period
EssayEssay1-5Referral/Deferral Period
EssayEssay1-5Referral/Deferral Period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core reading:


Shakespeare, The Tempest


Francis Bacon, New Atlantis


Francis Godwin, The Man in the Moone


Margaret Cavendish, The Blazing World


Thomas Shadwell, The Virtuoso


Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe


William Stukeley, Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life


(extracts from the following texts will be available via the module’s ELE site: Robert Hooke, Micrographia; Donne’s poems; Philosophical Transactions; Thomas Sprat, The History of the Royal Society of London; Thomas Browne, Pseudodoxia Epidemica; Samuel Pepys, Diary)



Indicative secondary reading:


Harkness, Deborah. The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007)


Henry, John. The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002)


Hunter, Michael. Science and Society in Restoration England (Cambridge: CUP, 1981)


Jardine, Lisa. Francis Bacon, Discovery and the Art of Discourse (London, CUP, 1974)


Johns, Adrian. The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (Chicago, Ill. University of Chicago Press, 1998)


Shapin, Steven, and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989)


Spiller, Elizabeth. Science, Reading and Renaissance Literature: the Art of Making Knowledge, 1580-1670 (Cambridge: CUP, 2004)


Swann, Marjorie. Curiosities and Texts: the Culture of Collecting in Early Modern England (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2001)

Module has an active ELE page?


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

science, knowledge, Royal Society, experiment, satire, science fiction