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Paper 3: Science, Medicine and Empire

Paper managers: Nick Hopwood, Jim Secord

All lectures are held in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science.

Michaelmas Term
Science, Industry and Empire
Jim Secord (4)
Thu 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Jim Secord (4)
Mon 10am (weeks 1–4)
Science in the Making of Modern Medicine
Nick Hopwood (5), Salim Al-Gailani (4), Mary Brazelton (3)
Mon 12noon (weeks 1–8)
Tue 2pm (weeks 5–8)
Lent Term
Science and Empire
Jim Secord (4)
Mon 10am (weeks 1–4)
Laboratories and Disciplines
Richard Staley (3), Simon Schaffer (3)
Thu 12noon (weeks 1–6)

From the late eighteenth century to start of World War I, modern science and scientific medicine were made for a world increasingly dominated by the industrializing economies of the West. During this pivotal period, these activities emerged, extended their global reach, and were consolidated and challenged. Key institutions were established: teaching laboratories, modern hospitals, research institutes, and professionally organised careers and qualifications. New and large-scale publics for scientific and medical discovery appeared, and, in turn, responded to and affected the content and aims of inquiry. This was also the epoch of grand visions of natural order and its secular meanings, in thermodynamics and electromagnetism, in astrophysics and cosmology, and in evolutionary theory and racial science. New notions of health and disease, normality and abnormality, informed practice and were widely debated. The paper traces the interactions between imperial and national rivalries, notions of class and of culture, enterprises of commerce and industry, and the achievements of the major scientific and medical programmes of the period.

Aims and learning outcomes

  • to acquaint students with fundamental issues in historical writing on the sciences and medicine from the late eighteenth century to the end of the First World War;
  • to provide students with an understanding of the principal changes that created the medical and scientific institutions, professionals and practices of the modern world;
  • to explore the imperial and colonial origins and uses of medical and scientific knowledge;
  • to introduce students to the processes through which the sciences and medicine began to emerge as a significant feature of economic, political and cultural life.


Science, Industry and Empire
Jim Secord (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

Introduces the main themes of the sciences during the period from the French Revolution to the early decades of the 20th century, with an emphasis on the wider historical setting.

Jim Secord (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

Nineteenth-century debates over evolutionary theories formed a key focus for contemporary concerns about the past, present, and future state of the natural world. These lectures bring together the histories of geology, zoology, anthropology, and more, to explore the cultural history of evolution in Victorian Britain. They show the crucial interactions between socio-economic, political, religious, publishing, imperial, and medical factors in analysing how experts and audiences thought about and represented the relationships and organisation of nature.

Science in the Making of Modern Medicine
Nick Hopwood, Salim Al-Gailani, Mary Brazelton (12 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

This course surveys the roles of the sciences in making modern medicine from the French Revolution to World War I. We explore the creation in the long 19th century of new institutions, especially hospitals and laboratories; of new professionals working in them as physicians, surgeons, public-health officers, nurses and especially scientists; and of new ways of understanding and treating disease. We investigate how relations between doctors and individual patients changed, and explore the role of medicine in managing the health of populations. We discuss how a medicine made largely in Western Europe was exported around the world.

Science and Empire
Jim Secord (4 lectures, Lent Term)

The making of modern science depended upon empires that stretched across the globe. These lectures examine the role of imperial power in the production of scientific knowledge, from new methods of mapping and measuring the world to emerging natural histories and medical theories. Focusing first on the 19th century world and then on 20th-century legacies of empire, the lectures consider the means by which scientific ideas and objects moved from one place to another and the role of imperial projects in the global history of science.

Laboratories and Disciplines
Richard Staley, Simon Schaffer (6 lectures, Lent Term)

This course is about the transformation of the places and spaces in which science was done from the early 19th to the early 20th century. Among the most significant developments was the rise of the university laboratory, which became (first in Germany and then elsewhere in the world) a key site for innovation in research and teaching. Particular attention is paid to the ways in which changes in scientific instrumentation and technique emerged from this development. Lectures also explain how laboratories and museums became powerful institutions from which scientists and their collaborators developed new practices, from which they multiplied scientific cultures beyond their walls. By the end of the period, the sciences had become central to notions of progress, investigated and prominently displayed in museums and international exhibitions.

Preliminary reading

  • Anderson, Warwick, Colonial Pathologies (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006)
  • Bernard, Claude, An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865 and later edns)
  • Bonner, Thomas Neville, To the Ends of the Earth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992)
  • Browne, Janet, Darwin's Origin of Species: A Biography (London: Atlantic Books, 2006)
  • Bynum, W.F., Science and the Practice of Medicine in the 19th Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)
  • Darwin, Charles, Evolutionary Writings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)
  • Fleck, Ludwik, Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979)
  • Foucault, Michel, The Birth of the Clinic (1973 and later edns)
  • Jardine, Nick, James Secord and Emma Spary (eds), Cultures of Natural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)
  • Hansen, Bert, Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009)
  • Lawrence, Christopher, Medicine in the Making of Modern Britain (London: Routledge, 1994)
  • Lightman, Bernard (ed.), Victorian Science in Context (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997)
  • McLelland Charles, State, Society and University in Germany, 1700–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980)
  • Marsden, Ben, and Crosbie Smith, Engineering Empires: A Cultural History of Technology in 19th-Century Britain (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2005)
  • Morus, Iwan Rhys, When Physics Became King (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005)
  • Pernick, Martin S., A Calculus of Suffering (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985)
  • Porter, Dorothy, Health, Civilization and the State (London: Routledge, 1999)
  • Richardson, Ruth, Death, Dissection and the Destitute (London: Routledge, 1987 or later edns)
  • Secord, James, Victorian Sensation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000)
  • Smith, Crosbie, The Science of Energy ((London: Athlone, 1998)
  • Stocking, George, Victorian Anthropology (New York: Free Press, 1987)
  • Winter, Alison, Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998)


  • Abbott, Edwin A., Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
  • Byatt, A.S., Angels and Insects
  • Collins, Wilkie, Heart and Science
  • Conrad, Joseph, The Heart of Darkness
  • Doyle, Arthur Conan, The Lost World
  • Eliot, George, Middlemarch
  • Hardy, Thomas, Two on a Tower
  • Mann, Thomas, The Magic Mountain
  • McCorrmmach, Russell, Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist
  • von Sacher-Masoch, Leopold, Venus in Furs
  • Shelley, Mary, Frankenstein
  • Wells, H.G., The Time Machine

Resources for Paper 3 on Moodle