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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Paper manager: Dániel Margócsy

Also offered in Part II of the Classical Tripos.

Lectures are held in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science.

All students should attend the core lectures in Michaelmas Term. In Lent, students should opt to follow either the Early Science track or the Early Medicine track. They will receive supervisions on only one of these tracks and they will be examined on material on either one of these tracks.

Michaelmas Term – Core Lectures
Early Medicine: An Introduction
Philippa Carter (1), Dániel Margócsy (1), Emma Spary (2)
Fri 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Visual Studies of Science
Sachiko Kusukawa (2), Dániel Margócsy (1), Pamela Mackenzie (1)
Tue 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Instruments and Material Culture
Josh Nall (2), Boris Jardine (2)
Fri 12noon (weeks 5–8)
Traditions of Knowledge and Healing
Philippa Carter (4)
Tue 12noon (weeks 5–8)
Lent Term – Early Science Track
Early Modern Natural Knowledge
Dániel Margócsy (2), Anna-Luna Post (1), Elisabeth Moreau (1)
Mon 2pm (weeks 1–4)
Institutions of Natural Knowledge Production
Dániel Margócsy (3), Sara Caputo (1)
Wed 11am (weeks 1–4)
Indian and Chinese Science
Mary Brazelton (2), Charu Singh (2)
Mon 2pm (weeks 5–8)
Natural Knowledge in the Enlightenment
Staffan Müller-Wille (4)
Wed 11am (weeks 5–8)
Lent Term – Early Medicine Track
Topics in the Social History of Medicine
Philippa Carter (3), Emma Spary (1)
Fri 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Global Natures in the Age of Exploration
Dániel Margócsy (4)
Tue 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Islamic and Chinese Medicine
Mary Brazelton (2), Dror Weil (2)
Fri 12noon (weeks 5–8)
Early Modern and Enlightenment Medicine and Natural History
Emma Spary (4)
Tue 12noon (weeks 5–8)

Why did people learn about human sexuality well into the 19th century from a book titled Aristotle's Masterpiece? How are Newtonian physics and slavery connected? Do we need pictures to learn what the human body looks like? What did Ottomans think of the idea of a heliocentric universe? What is Enlightenment? How traditional is Chinese Traditional Medicine? And how should we write a medical history of worms? These are some of the questions that Paper 1 asks.  

Paper 1 considers scientific and medical knowledge in early modern period, including the Enlightenment, and covers a wide geographical space, focusing on a number of different societies and cultures. We examine how natural philosophers, healing women, artisans and men and women from a variety of backgrounds thought about 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, astrology and physics
    • mathematical sciences
    • medicine, pharmaceutics and alchemy
    • vernacular modes of knowledge production
    • natural philosophy 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
    • the social and geographical constraints of knowledge production
    • literacy, material culture and communicating knowledge through various textual and visual media
    • the transmission of knowledge between regions, peoples and cultures
    • 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

Early Medicine: An Introduction

Philippa Carter, Dániel Margócsy, Emma Spary (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

These lectures provide an overview of European medicine before 1800. We will examine ways in which medical encounters and healing took place in a variety of sites. We will also examine how Greek and Arab medicine, anatomy and natural philosophy were foundational to learned medical theory and practices, and how these ancient and medieval views came under attack. The lectures address the political, social and spatial structuring of medical provision to address the political structures underlying healthcare in the period. We will study how different practitioners were trained and how they interacted both with each other and their patients.

Visual Studies of Science

Sachiko Kusukawa, Dániel Margócsy, Pamela Mackenzie (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

Science today is supremely visual – in its experiments, observations and communication, images have become integral to the scientific enterprise. The advent of photography and digital technology has enabled new and multiple types of images, but some high-profile cases of fraud have drawn attention to the process of image-generation itself – omissions, commissions, adjustments and copying – questions of trust. These four lectures will draw on examples from earlier centuries (15th – 18th) when images became integral to studies of nature which in turn were beginning to deploy sight-enhancing instruments such as the telescope and the microscope. Rather than demonstrating an onward march towards increasing accuracy, this set of lectures will examine critically the making and using of imagery in this period and offer ways to understand more generally what was entailed in scientific visualisation in early modern Europe.

Instruments and Material Culture

Josh Nall, Boris Jardine (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

These lectures are intended to introduce you not to ideas but to things. They will take place in the Whipple Museum, so that we can look at and handle a range of instruments made and used between the 16th and 18th centuries. We will consider their design and the craft skills essential for their making; and we will ponder the relationship between that craft skill and the pursuit of both practical and scholarly activities in this period.

Traditions of Knowledge and Healing

Philippa Carter (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

These lectures explore some of the key systems of thought and belief which underpinned the practice of medicine in Europe and its colonies before c. 1800. We will focus on the models which helped early modern people to manage and make sense of their bodies, their environments, and their experiences of illness. Each lecture offers an introduction to one or more explanatory frameworks: humoralism, theories of disease transmission, astrology, and belief in spirits. Traversing the centuries between c. 1400 and 1800, we will consider how, when, and why these traditions of knowledge and healing overlapped, competed, diverged, and (in some cases) died out.


Early Science track

Early Modern Natural Knowledge

Dániel Margócsy, Anna-Luna Post, Elisabeth Moreau (4 lectures, Lent 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 selected case studies. Lectures address themes in the history of natural philosophy and new models of producing natural knowledge: the cases discussed include the work of Galileo, Boyle, Newton and their contemporaries, alongside the emergence of larger and more complex networks of knowledge that linked reorganised laboratories, colleges and observatories with different kinds of artisans and labourers, including enterprises in chemistry, natural history and the mathematical sciences.

Institutions of Natural Knowledge Production

Dániel Margócsy, Sara Caputo (4 lectures, Lent Term)

Where does one do science and technology? In the garage? These four lectures examine four prominent locations for the production of natural knowledge in Europe and across the globe. We study how professional and domestic spaces shaped the development of philosophical ideas and how global political ambitions were crucial for the development of a variety of disciplines. The emphasis is on the nature of social interactions different spatial structures enable and constrain.

Indian and Chinese Science

Mary Brazelton, Charu Singh (4 lectures, Lent Term)

What was science and who counted as its practitioners in the early Chinese and Indian worlds? These lectures investigate how people across Asia crafted knowledge about the natural world and the forms that such knowledge took, as well as the ways in which this knowledge travelled and transformed over time and space. We will consider key texts alongside visual and material cultures of knowledge production.

Natural Knowledge in the Enlightenment

Staffan Müller-Wille (4 lectures, Lent Term)

These lectures and classes 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.


Early Medicine track

Topics in the Social History of Medicine

Philippa Carter, Emma Spary (4 lectures, Lent Term)

These lectures examine how to write a social history of medicine that includes both learned and vernacular traditions and professional and domestic settings. It examines how medicine was practised in early modern households, with a special focus on issues of gender and sexual reproduction. We also reflect on the practices of historical research. 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.

Global Natures in the Age of Exploration

Dániel Margócsy (4 lectures, Lent Term)

These lectures examine the construction of nature in early modern global encounters. We study how ideas about health, the human body and nature emerged during the (often forced) encounters of different traditions of knowledge-making across the Atlantic and Indian Ocean world. We discuss different models of encounter, medical and scientific studies of race, the emergence of colonial medicine and the role of commerce and empire.

Islamic and Chinese Medicine

Mary Brazelton, Dror Weil (4 lectures, Lent Term)

These lectures offer an overview of medicine in the early Chinese and Islamic worlds. We will consider basic concepts of the body and disease, how efforts to treat and prevent illness arose within such a framework, and how these practices were transformed by new texts, professions and institutions over time. Central themes and case studies will emphasise the ways in which medicine in Chinese and Islamic contexts was characterised by a diversity of practices and pedagogies. We will also consider how medical practitioners in many contexts incorporated ideas, materials and texts from foreign sources.

Early Modern and Enlightenment Medicine and Natural History

Emma Spary (4 lectures, Lent Term)

These lectures and classes continue the topics introduced in the Early Medicine lectures and focus on changes in understanding in the period between 1500 and 1800. During this period important discoveries were made in pharmacies, in alchemical laboratories, in the New World and under microscopes, and we consider the influence of these discoveries on medical theory and practice. In addition to drawing upon learned and vernacular medical, religious and literary texts, we will also consider how medicine became transformed in the course of the long 18th century.


Preliminary reading

  • The Penguin Atlas of World History, Volume 1: From Prehistory to the Eve of the French Revolution (London: Penguin, 2003)
  • Bleichmar, Daniela, Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017)
  • 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)
  • Farquhar, Judith, A Way of Life: Things, Thought and Action in Chinese Medicine (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020)
  • 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)
  • Gómez, Pablo, The Experiential Caribbean: Creating Knowledge and Healing in the Early Modern Atlantic (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017)
  • 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)
  • Raj, Kapil, Relocating Modern Science: Circulation and the Construction of Knowledge in South Asia and Europe, 1650–1900 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)
  • Rossi, Paolo, Philosophy, Technology and the Arts in the Early Modern Era (New York: Harper & Row, 1970)
  • Schiebinger, Londa, Secret Cures of Slaves: People, Plants and Medicine in the 18th-Century Atlantic World (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017)
  • 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