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Paper 1: Early History of Science, Medicine and Technology

Paper manager: Dániel Margócsy

Also offered in Part II of the Classical Tripos.

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

Paper 1 consists of 16 core lectures, and two tracks (History of Science path and History of Medicine path) of more specialised lectures. All students are expected to attend the 16 core lectures, as well as the lectures in one of the two tracks. On their exam, they will have to choose whether to answer questions related to the History of Science or History of Medicine path, and they will also be examined on the core lectures.


Michaelmas Term
The Ancient Tradition
Liba Taub (4)
Tue 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Early Modern Life Sciences and Medicine
Emma Spary (1), Dániel Margócsy (2), Rebecca Flemming (1)
Tue 12noon (weeks 5–8)
Lent Term
Natural Knowledge in the Enlightenment
Simon Schaffer (4)
Tue 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Visual and Material Culture
Sachiko Kusukawa (2), Dániel Margócsy (2)
Tue 12noon (weeks 5–8)

History of Science path

Michaelmas Term
Early Modern Science
Dániel Margócsy (5), Emma Spary (1), Liba Taub (2)
Thu 12noon (weeks 1–8)
Lent Term
Instruments, Books, Collections
Liba Taub (2), Dániel Margócsy (2)
Thu 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Natural Philosophy and Natural History in the Enlightenment
Simon Schaffer (3), Emma Spary (1)
Thu 12noon (weeks 5–8)

History of Medicine path

Michaelmas Term
Medieval Medicine
Sachiko Kusukawa (2), Mary Brazelton (2)
Fri 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Early Modern and Enlightenment Medicine
Emma Spary (2), Dániel Margócsy (1), Sachiko Kusukawa (1)
Fri 12noon (weeks 5–8)
Lent Term
Early Modern and Enlightenment Medicine (continued)
Dániel Margócsy (2), Emma Spary (2)
Fri 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Sources in Medical History
Dániel Margócsy (2), Emma Spary (1), Sachiko Kusukawa (1)
Fri 12noon (weeks 5–8)

Why did people learn about human sexuality well into the 19th century from a book titled Aristotle's Masterpiece? Do we need pictures to learn what the human body looks like? Was a telescope necessary, or even beneficial, to come up with new observations of Jupiter, or the Moon? What did Ottomans think of the idea of a heliocentric universe? What is Enlightenment? And did universities contribute to the development of natural knowledge? These are some of the questions that Paper 1 asks.

Paper 1 considers scientific and medical knowledge in the ancient, medieval and early modern periods, including the Enlightenment, and covers a wide geographical space, focusing on a number of different cultures. We examine how scholars, natural philosophers, artisans and people from a variety of backgrounds thought the cosmos, the natural world, and the human body. We study what methods, media and instruments they used to study these phenomena. We also examine the institutions, practices and networks of knowledge production.

We examine continuities and discontinuities in the history of science and medicine to learn how people over two millennia hoped to understand and transform the human and natural world. We discuss how Ancient knowledge remained a major source for European science and medicine throughout our period, and why Stephen Hawking still referred to Aristotle in his last book. We critically examine what it means to study early science and medicine from a global perspective, with examples ranging from early Ming China through Mughal India to colonial Latin America. Last, but not least, we pay special attention to the question of how historical knowledge is produced. How do historians evaluate archival and printed sources, and how can one write a history of material objects, such as 18th-century obstetric models or exotic snakes bottled in a jar?

Aims and learning outcomes

  • to encourage students to explore the scientific, medical and mathematical ideas and practices of the ancient, medieval and early modern periods including:
    • astronomy and astrology
    • cosmology and physics
    • mathematical sciences
    • medicine and pharmaceutics
    • natural sciences and natural history;
  • to acquaint students with some of the fundamental themes in the interpretation of pre-modern science and medicine, including a consideration of:
    • sites and institutions of learning
    • literacy, material culture and communicating knowledge
    • interactions between customers, patients and producers in medical and scientific marketplaces
    • classifications of scientific and medical knowledge
    • evidence, interpretation and historiography;
  • to encourage students to engage critically with evidence, textual, visual and material;
  • to encourage students to explore the continuity and changes of scientific and medical institutions, methods, and ideas across cultures and time periods.

Core lectures

The Ancient Tradition
Liba Taub (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

These lectures examine styles of scientific and medical writing in antiquity, looking at formats which include the treatise, poetry, letter, commentary, encyclopaedia, question-and-answer and problem texts. Topics discussed in these texts include the study of 'nature' and bodies, physics (including meteorology) and mathematics. The lectures and readings engage with important themes in the fields of ancient science and medicine, and also provide useful background for understanding natural philosophy and the study of health and disease in later periods. One aim will be to explore the contexts in which the ancient texts were written and read.

Early Modern Life Sciences and Medicine
Emma Spary, Dániel Margócsy, Rebecca Flemming (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

These lectures provide an introduction to the paper by exploring what it means to study the history of medicine, natural history, and related disciplines before c.1750. Centering on health, diseases, and the natural environment, they introduce the major themes and methods that historians have used to study the ways in which medical and natural knowledge were made, health and the body understood, and illness and diseases prevented and cured hundreds of years ago. We will begin with questions about who did these things, how they did them, and why.

Natural Knowledge in the Enlightenment
Simon Schaffer (4 lectures, Lent Term)

These lectures discuss themes in the development of natural knowledge and its aims in the long 18th century. Lectures treat in detail the instrumentation and material culture of the sciences, techniques of experimentation, travel and communication, methods and techniques of the sciences, forms of knowledge in print, the topics of globalization and industrialization, and the principal intellectual and programmatic trends in the new sciences of the European enlightenment.

Visual and Material Culture
Sachiko Kusukawa, Dániel Margócsy (4 lectures, Lent Term)

This set of four lectures examines the visual and material dimensions of scientific and medical knowledge in Europe in the early modern period. In contrast to traditional approaches focusing on text, theories and ideas, we discuss how text, image and object were used to make, mobilize and defend new forms of knowledge about nature. Topics discussed will include Vesalius, Galileo, Leeuwenhoek, and Linnaeus.

Lectures: History of Science path

Early Modern Science
Dániel Margócsy, Emma Spary, Liba Taub (8 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

These lectures examine the fortunes of natural knowledge and its practitioners in early modern Europe by discussing shifts in institutions, modes of explanation, methods of observation and experiments, and identities of practitioners and disciplines, through several case studies. Lectures address themes in the history of occult philosophies and new models of literary and natural philosophical innovation. As natural knowledge became socially and geographically distributed and addressed new and different audiences, makers of knowledge developed new strategies of organization, control and persuasion.

Instruments, Books, Collections
Liba Taub, Dániel Margócsy (4 lectures, Lent Term)

As authors in their own right, it is hardly surprising that historians spend much of their research time in the study of texts. This course of lectures makes the case for the study of the material objects of early scientific culture: the tools used by natural philosophers, astronomers, and others, in their investigation of nature. What is a scientific instrument? What kind of histories do instruments have, and how can we study them? How was a book produced in the first two hundred years of printing? Does it make a difference to understanding how texts are read to take account of the materiality of books? Did the invention of printing transform the study of nature? What is the relationship between the history of instruments and the history of the book?

Natural Philosophy and Natural History in the Enlightenment
Simon Schaffer, Emma Spary (4 lectures, Lent Term)

These lectures discuss themes in the development of natural philosophy and natural history in the Enlightenment. Lectures treat in detail the instrumentation and material culture of the sciences, techniques of experimentation and observation, travel and communication, methods and techniques of the sciences, forms of knowledge in print, the exploitation of natural objects in relation to medicine and science,  the topics of globalization and industrialization, and the description and ordering of natural objects.

Lectures: History of Medicine path

Medieval Medicine
Sachiko Kusukawa, Mary Brazelton (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

These lectures provide an overview of medieval medicine from a global perspective. In the Mediterranean world Graeco-Roman medicine constituted a shared heritage of learning based on the writings attributed to Hippocrates and Galen. While surviving in fragmentary form in the west this heritage was received in its fullest form and assimilated by the societies of the Islamicate world. Islamic medicine was translated and received in the Latin west in successive waves from the 11th to the 13th centuries. New ways of teaching medicine were developed in the universities, but the basis of medical practice in east and west, and the functioning of the medical marketplace, were remarkably consistent. In contrast, Chinese medicine in the early modern period produced a remarkable range of doctrinal, therapeutic, and regional variation within the classical medical tradition. Topics include medical institutions, texts and practices scholastic medicine and surgery, diagnosis and prognosis, leprosy, the printing and circulation of medical texts, cross-cultural encounters, and the experience of being ill in the Middle Ages.

Early Modern and Enlightenment Medicine
Emma Spary, Sachiko Kusukawa, Dániel Margócsy (8 lectures, Michaelmas and Lent Terms)

These lectures provide an overview of medicine in early modern Europe (1500–1750). We will examine ways in which Greek and Arab medicine, anatomy and natural philosophy were foundational to medical theory and practices, and how these ancient and medieval views came under attack. Central themes of the course include change and continuity in theories of the body and disease, practices of maintaining health and healing, experiences of patients, and in the broad spectrum of practitioners available. We will study how different practitioners were trained and how they interacted both with each other and their patients. During this period important discoveries were made in anatomical theatres, in alchemical laboratories, in the New World and under microscopes, and we consider their influence on medical theory and practice. In addition to drawing upon learned and vernacular medical, religious and literary texts, we will consider what contemporary visual and material culture can teach us about the history of early modern medicine.

Sources in Medical History
Dániel Margócsy, Emma Spary, Sachiko Kusukawa (4 lectures, Lent Term)

These lectures provide an overview of the sources historians of medicine use in order to interpret the past. We critically evaluate what biases printed, archival, visual and material sources of evidence bring to the study of the past, and what interpretive techniques need to be applied to the study of such sources. We discuss how different sources are available for the study of elite, learned, vernacular and/or medical practices in the period. The lectures treat in detail how to study casebooks, printed books, medical and anatomical collections, and medical archives.

Preliminary reading

  • The Penguin Atlas of World History, Volume 1: From Prehistory to the Eve of the French Revolution (London: Penguin, 2003)
  • Clark, William, Jan Golinski and Simon Schaffer (eds), The Sciences in Enlightened Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999)
  • Cohen, I. Bernard, Album of Science: From Leonardo to Lavoisier, 1450–1800 (New York: Scribner, 1980)
  • Cuomo, Serafina, Technology and Culture in Greek and Roman Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)
  • Daston, Lorraine, and Peter Galison, Objectivity (New York: Zone, 2007)
  • Dear, Peter, Revolutionizing the Sciences (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001)
  • Duden, Barbara, The Woman Beneath the Skin: A Doctor's Patients in 18th-Century Germany, translated by Thomas Dunlap (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991)
  • Eco, Umberto, The Name of the Rose (London: Secker & Warburg, 1983)
  • Elmer, Peter (ed.), The Healing Arts: Health, Disease and Society in Europe, 1500–1800 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004)
  • Fara, Patricia, An Entertainment for Angels: Electricity in the Enlightenment (Cambridge: Icon, 2002)
  • Fissell, Mary, Vernacular Bodies: The Politics of Reproduction in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)
  • Frasca-Spada, Marina, and Nick Jardine (eds), Books and the Sciences in History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), Part I
  • French, Roger, Medicine Before Science: The Rational and Learned Doctor from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)
  • Galilei, Galileo, Sidereus Nuncius, or The Sidereal Messenger, translated by Albert van Helden (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989)
  • Gutas, Dimitri, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture (London: Routledge, 1998)
  • Hankins, Thomas, and Robert Silverman, Instruments and the Imagination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995)
  • Hankins, Thomas, Science and the Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)
  • Henry, John, The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997)
  • Jardine, Lisa, Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution (London: Little, Brown, 1999)
  • Jardine, Nick, Jim Secord and Emma Spary (eds), Cultures of Natural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)
  • Kieckhefer, Richard, Magic in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989/2000)
  • Lindberg, David C., and Michael H. Shank, The Cambridge History of Science, vol. 2: Medieval Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)
  • Lloyd, Geoffrey, Early Greek Science (London: Chatto & Windus, 1970)
  • Lloyd, Geoffrey, Greek Science after Aristotle (London: Chatto & Windus, 1973)
  • MacDonald, Michael, Mystical Bedlam: Madness, Anxiety and Healing in 17th-Century England, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981)
  • Murdoch, John E., Album of Science: Antiquity and the Middle Ages (New York: Scribner, 1984)
  • Park, Katharine, Secrets of Women: Gender, Generation and the Origins of Human Dissection (New York: Zone Books, 2006)
  • Pedersen, Olaf, Early Physics and Astronomy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)
  • Pelling, Margaret, The Common Lot: Sickness, Medical Occupations and the Urban Poor in Early Modern England (London: Longman, 1998)
  • Pomata, Gianna, Contracting a Cure: Patients, Healers and the Law in Early Modern Bologna (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998)
  • Porter, Roy, The Scientific Revolution in National Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)
  • Porter, Roy, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind (London: HarperCollins, 1997)
  • Rossi, Paolo, Philosophy, Technology and the Arts in the Early Modern Era (New York: Harper & Row, 1970)
  • Shapin, Steven, The Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996)
  • Siraisi, Nancy, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990)
  • Small, Jocelyn Penny, Wax Tablets of the Mind (London: Routledge, 1997)
  • Taub, Liba, Aetna and the Moon: Explaining Nature in Ancient Greece and Rome (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2008)
  • Tomalin, Claire, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (London: Viking, 2002)
  • Webster, Charles, From Paracelsus to Newton: Magic and the Making of Modern Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982)
  • Westman, Robert, and David Lindberg, Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990)


Resources for Paper 1 on Moodle