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Paper 3: Science, Medicine and Empire

Paper managers: Richard Staley (Michaelmas & Easter Terms), Jim Secord (Lent Term)

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

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

From the late 18th century to the 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 18th 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.

History of Anthropology
Richard Staley (6 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

This course examines the history of anthropology, focusing on the period in which central methods of fieldwork and major features of the academic discipline were formed. Studies of Franz Boas and Bronisław Malinowski in particular will allow us to explore British and American traditions and the relations between 'scientific' and 'historicist' approaches, together with changing understandings of mind, social institutions, the market and culture. We focus in particular on the complex relations between anthropology and imperialism and the way understandings of these have changed over time. Three aims will underlie our work: to examine the legacy of methods and concepts of the natural sciences in the development of anthropology; to explore several examples of anthropologists as activists and public intellectuals; and to examine critically the diverse ways in which understandings of its past have continually been invoked in attempts to shape the future of anthropology.

Science in the Making of Modern Medicine
Salim Al-Gailani, Nick Hopwood (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.

Laboratories and Disciplines
Simon Schaffer, Joseph Martin (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.

Empire, Nature and Race
Jim Secord (6 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 evolutionary theories. Focusing on Britain, these lectures pay particular attention to the role of empire in racial questions in public debate about empire and on the problem of human descent in the making of evolutionary theories both before and after Darwin's Origin of Species.

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)
  • 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)
  • Fleck, Ludwik, Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979)
  • Jardine, Nick, James Secord and Emma Spary (eds), Cultures of Natural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)
  • Kuklick, Henrika (ed.), A New History of Anthropology (Oxford/Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008)
  • Lawrence, Christopher, Medicine in the Making of Modern Britain (London: Routledge, 1994)
  • 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)
  • Qureshi, Sadiah, Peoples on Parade: Exhibitions, Empire and Anthropology in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011)
  • Richardson, Ruth, Death, Dissection and the Destitute (London: Routledge, 1987 or later edns)
  • Stocking, George, Victorian Anthropology (New York: Free Press, 1987)


  • 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

Resources for Paper 3 on Moodle