The Cultures of the Sciences from the Renaissance to the French Revolution (HIC2317)

StaffDr Richard Noakes - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level5
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module explores the ways in which a welter of new ideas, practices and institutions were actively put together as aspects of a radical new way of understanding humans, nature and the cosmos.  The religious, economic, political and social changes of the period are explored as both the causes and effects of scientific developments.  The module will provide students with the ability to critique the common assumption that the sciences were the inevitable outcomes of the human quest to understand and control the environment, and to better understand the places of sciences in other types of history.


The module will also give students a solid grasp of the historiography of the sciences and how different historical perspectives can be understood.  Students will acquire a detailed understanding of key episodes in the early  history of the sciences and the broader religious, political, scientific, and economic contexts that they shaped and which shaped them.  The critical approach to primary sources assessed in the essay will dovetail with the Level 2 independent study modules and provide excellent preparation for the Level 3 dissertation.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge and understanding of the key themes in the sciences and technology in the West since the sixteenth century, together with a deeper knowledge of themes to be selected by students for essay and seminar work
  • 2. Demonstrate in oral and written contributions the key developments in the history of science and technology, and link them to broader historical contexts
  • 3. Demonstrate an understanding of the changing historiography of the sciences and technology

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Analyse and reflect critically and contextually upon historical texts relating to a specific historical period or theme
  • 5. Collate data from a range of sources, both primary and secondary
  • 6. With limited guidance, understand and deploy historical terminology in a comprehensible manner
  • 7. With limited guidance, handle different approaches to history in areas of controversy
  • 8. Work with primary sources under direction from the module tutor

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 9. Show evidence of ability to read and use texts and source materials critically and empathetically
  • 10. Present material for group discussion and have respect for others reasoned views
  • 11. With limited guidance, gather and deploy material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument

Syllabus plan

Historiography of science and technology; the Scientific Revolution?; exploration, trade and new worlds; humanism, books and the occult arts; universities and traditional learning; court society, patronage and the philosophers; war, gender and nature; ideologies and instruments; natural philosophy and popular culture; European imperialism and natural history; technologies and tools of Western dominance; the industrial revolution and Newton; the French Revolution and chemistry; the second scientific revolution and emergence of modern science; conclusions.

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
Lectures11Provide a spine through which all students can be brought to a similar level of knowledge and through which ideas and controversies can be transmitted.
Seminars11The seminars will focus on particular aspects of the subject-matter, with a view to offering a fuller understanding than can be delivered through the lectures, allowing the students to develop their skills and knowledge more fully. Students will be expected to prepare adequately for seminars in advance by reading and evaluating and to discuss the issues raised in the seminar itself.

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
Essay602,000 words 1-9, 11Mark, written comments and verbal feedback on formal submission
Group Presentation4020 minutes1-11Mark and written comments

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-9, 11Referral/deferral period
Group Presentation2000 word Essay1-9, 11Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Bowler, P. (1992). The Fontana History of the Environmental Sciences. London:Fontana

Bowler, P. and Morus, I.(2005). Making Modern Science. Chicago:Chicago University Press

Brooke, John Hedley (1991), Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Brotton, J. (2006). The Renaissance: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford:Oxford University Press.

Ede, A. and Cormack, L. (2004).  A History of Science in Society. Peterborough: Broadview Press

Fara, P. (2009). Science: A Four Thousand Year History. Oxford:Oxford University Press

Henry, J. (1997). The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science. Basingstoke: Palgrave

Jacob, Margaret and Stewart, Larry (2004), Practical Matter: Newton's Science in the Service of Industry and Empire, 1687-1851. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Outram, D. (1997). The Enlightenment. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press

Merchant, C. (1990). The Death of Nature. New York: Harper’s

Principe, Lawrence (2011), The Scientific Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.  Oxford: Oxford University Press

Shapin, S. (1996). The Scientific Revolution.  Chicago: Chicago University Press

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Available as distance learning?


Key words search

Science; history; Renaissance; Enlightenment; Industrial Revolution; religion; magic; trade; imperialism