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Part II

The Part II course in History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) gives students an insight into the historical development of science, medicine and technology. It addresses questions about the nature of scientific knowledge, and critically examines the social authority given to scientific expertise. It thus provides essential intellectual resources for understanding some of the most important aspects of modern society and culture.

This is a full-time Part II course in the Natural Sciences Tripos. We also offer single-paper options as part of the NST Part II course in Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Part IIB of the Human, Social and Political Sciences Tripos, and Part IIB of the Psychological and Behavioural Sciences Tripos.


There are two alternative ways of designing your HPS Part II programme.

Option A consists of:

  • three unseen written examinations chosen from a broad range of papers
  • a dissertation;
  • two primary source essays.

Option B consists of:

  • four unseen written examinations chosen from a broad range of papers;
  • two primary source essays.

Each examination paper counts for 20%, the two primary source essays for 20% and the dissertation (in Option A) for 20% of the overall mark. This means that Option A is 40% coursework and Option B is 20% coursework.

The papers

Students choose from the following list of papers. Any combination of papers will provide a very broad exposure to the field of history and philosophy of science and medicine and will fully meet the course aims and objectives.

  • Paper 1: Early Science and Medicine
  • Paper 2: Sciences in Transition: Renaissance to Enlightenment
  • Paper 3: Science, Medicine and Empire
  • Paper 4: Science, Medicine and Technology since 1900
  • Paper 5: Philosophy of Science
  • Paper 6: Ethics and Politics of Science, Technology and Medicine

Primary sources

All students write two extended essays (up to 3,000 words), each focused on an assigned primary source. During Michaelmas Term there will be eight series of primary source seminars, each made up of four seminars. Students should attend four series of seminars. They then choose two sources on which to write their essays.

The prescribed sources for 2016–17 are as follows:

  • The Board of Longitude: materials and documents
  • Gleanings in Science (Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press, 1829–31)
  • Lennart Nilsson's photograph of an 18-week fetus (1965)
  • Pierre Duhem, The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, 2nd edition, translated by P.P. Wiener (1954)
  • Doha declaration on the TRIPS agreement (2001); Indian supreme court ruling on Novartis (2013)
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), The American Psychiatric Association (2013), pp. xli–xliv, 5–24 and other selections
  • World Conservation Strategy: Living Resource Conservation for Sustainable Development (1980)


This part of the course – which is only for students taking Option A – gives students the chance to explore in depth a topic that really interests them. The dissertation is a substantial piece of original work (up to 12,000 words). Students make short presentations on their dissertation work in dissertation seminars in Lent Term.


All papers are supported by supervisions; we recommend that students write 6–8 supervision essays per paper.