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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


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.

Students from a variety of backgrounds are encouraged to consider the course. However, students who did not take Part IB HPS are advised, before the start of the Part II course, to read as many as possible of the texts listed on the Part IB timetable. All intending Part II students are urged, during the Long Vacation, to tackle the preliminary reading for the papers they plan to take.

Teaching and learning methods for this course include lectures, supervisions, research work, group discussions, class presentations, and extensive reading. Assessment is through coursework and unseen examinations.

Programme specification for HPS Part II

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;
  • a primary source essay.

Option B consists of:

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

Each examination paper counts for 20%, the primary source essay 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 course is overseen by the Part II Manager who takes overall responsibility for the running of the course and gives advice to students on planning the year's work. Each paper also has a manager, whom you may approach with questions about the lectures, seminars and supervisions for that paper.

See the Part II timetable for full details of the papers that are offered. 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.

Part II timetable


All papers are supported by supervisions; we recommend that students write 6–8 supervision essays per paper. Students can normally expect to receive three supervisions for their primary source essay and (for Option A) four supervisions for their dissertation. Exam preparation will be supported by revision supervisions in Easter Term.

Supervision essay topics are agreed in advance by the course managers, lecturers and supervisors and are available on Moodle. If you have any questions you would like to raise in a supervision or topics you would like to discuss that are in addition to the essay that has been set, you should let your supervisor know about this before the supervision.


Reading lists can be found on the HPS Part II Moodle sites. Lecture handouts and slides, and scans of some book chapters and journal articles are also available there.


Whipple Library

The Whipple Library is open to all undergraduates and aims to hold copies of all books and articles on reading lists for courses taught in the Department. There are computers for accessing the Library catalogue, the internet, electronic journals and other subscribed electronic resources. The Library also has a scanner, microfilm reader and photocopier. User education sessions are held during Michaelmas Term.

Please register at the Library desk on your first visit with your University Card.

During term, Part II students are welcome to borrow up to ten items at a time. Open shelf items, in common with other faculty and departmental libraries in Cambridge, will renew automatically but should be returned once they are finished with. If an item is recalled by another user, then there is a period of a week in which to return it. Items on 'reserve' can be borrowed overnight and must be returned by the end of the next working day (Monday, if borrowed on Friday).

Vacation borrowing for open shelf items usually starts during the last week of full term (the precise date will be advertised), and vacation loans are due back on the first day of the next full term.

The Library does not charge fines for overdue books, but we reserve the right to rescind borrowing rights if books are returned damaged, late when recalled, or at the librarians' discretion.

Whipple Library

Other useful libraries for the course

  • College libraries: Your College library should stock all the essential reading for the course. If it doesn't have a book you need, just ask the Librarian if they can get it – they are usually very happy to buy books in this way.
  • Casimir Lewy Library: Faculty of Philosophy, Sidgwick Site
  • Seeley Historical Library: Faculty of History, Sidgwick Site

Directory of HPS-related special collections in Cambridge

Student workload

Students are expected to attend lectures and supervisions and pursue appropriate amounts of private study and preparation work for their papers and project work both during term and in the Christmas and Easter vacations. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has calculated that the average amount of scheduled teaching in full-time History and Philosophy of Science subjects at the University of Cambridge is 11 hours and 12 minutes per week, with private study of approximately 33 hours and 18 minutes per week. Therefore the average amount of work expected per week by each student during term time is around 45 hours (900 hours in total during the course of the year). NST Part II History and Philosophy of Science is a full-time course. Option A students have 108 hours of formal teaching, and up to 26 hours of supervisions; Option B students have 136 hours of formal teaching and up to 28 hours of supervisions, leaving between 736 and 766 hours for private study,  preparation for supervisions and project work (approximately 37 hours per week).

Further study

Part II students can apply for the Department's Part III course or MPhil course (or apply for both and decide later which course to take). Both courses are conducted by means of supervisions and seminars; students submit essays and a dissertation, each of which are separately supervised by senior members and associates of the Department.

Admission criteria and procedures differ between the two courses. The Part III is only open to those continuing directly from a Part II course. The MPhil also admits those who have already graduated and are returning to the Department, as well as those who come to the University from other institutions. Funding arrangements for the two courses differ.

If you are considering continuing your studies in the Department you should discuss your application with the Part II Manager and the Part III/MPhil Manager well in advance of the application deadline.

Part III