Research Topics in the History of Science

HISTORY 101.010

Spring 2015
Day & Time: 
TuTh 11-1230

Every society attempts to grasp the invisible systems underlying life, consciousness, and the cosmos, but in so doing unconsciously reveals its own intimate nature. Ostensibly a window looking out upon the natural world, science is equally a mirror of the society that produces it. This irony animates much recent historical scholarship, which pulls aside the curtain on “objective reason” to reveal teeming social ecologies: a debate among seventeenth-century scientists seemingly about air vacuums conceals anxious political concerns; a table of astronomical data used to construct the solar system inadvertently maps the rapacious reach of British colonialism; the curve of a famous polynomial through Cartesian space traces the spiritual escape of an eighteenth-century noblewoman from her stifling and all-too-earthly gender roles; the strange soundtrack of a 1980 documentary about outer space gently dislodges viewers from the customary triumphalism of Cold War science. Science is always haunted by its inverted doppelgänger, socially constructed reality. This course invites students to intensively explore an intersection of science and society from any time period. A few readings will be assigned at the beginning of the semester to illustrate some recent trends and possibilities for research.