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Paper 4: Science, Medicine and Technology since 1900

Paper managers: Nick Hopwood, Joseph Martin

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

Michaelmas Term
Sciences, Politics, Publics
Mary Brazelton (2), Joseph Martin (3), Nick Hopwood (2), Richard Staley (3)
Thu 11am (weeks 1–5)
Tue 11am (weeks 1–5)
Science and Medicine Since World War I
Nick Hopwood (4), Salim Al-Gailani (5), Mary Brazelton (3)
Mon 12noon (weeks 7–8)
Tue 2pm (weeks 7–8)
Lent Term
Science and Medicine Since World War I
Mon 12noon (weeks 2–8)
Tue 2pm (week 2)
Science, Technology and Global Power
Mary Brazelton (3), Joseph Martin (7)
Tue 11am (weeks 1–5)
Wed 12noon (weeks 1–5)

During the 20th century, science, technology and medicine dramatically reshaped everyday lives, from the food and fuel people consumed, through the ways they worked and travelled, to the medicines they used. Changes in science, technology and medicine also sparked human imaginations, inspiring dreams of solving global hunger or curing devastating diseases and fuelling nightmares of nuclear annihilation and catastrophic climate change. This paper surveys the history of science, technology and medicine from the early 20th century until the present day. This period encompassed many striking transitions in scientific research, including a vastly expanded scale, new professional roles for scientists, novel configurations of funding and the globalization of research. It also saw the transformation of scientific medicine into a major object of economic, political and ethical concern. The paper traces these various aspects of 20th and 21st century science through examples drawn from across disciplines and around the world.

Aims and learning outcomes

  • to acquaint students with key events in the history of science, technology and medicine since 1900 as they unfolded across diverse disciplines and institutions in many parts of the world;
  • to present students with a deeper understanding of how science and technology came to occupy a central place in 20th and 21st century societies and especially in the daily lives of peoples worldwide;
  • to introduce students to the processes through which medicine was transformed into a major object of economic, political and ethical concern;
  • to encourage students to reflect critically on their own experiences of science, technology and medicine today, informed by greater knowledge of its recent history.


Sciences, Politics, Publics
Mary Brazelton, Joseph Martin, Nick Hopwood, Richard Staley (10 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

This course explores major transformations in science and technology through the 1940s. The lectures highlight in particular the roles played by different patrons of science, such as governments, philanthropic foundations and industry, and by the various audiences, from other scientists and political leaders to wider publics, in guiding research agendas and outcomes. Examples are drawn from across disciplines and settings, including genetics and eugenics, ecology, industrial research, nuclear physics and tropical medicine. The lectures chart the rise to dominance of American science and compare the capitalist democracies to other political systems, notably the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and Maoist China.

Science and Medicine Since World War I
Nick Hopwood, Salim Al-Gailani, Mary Brazelton (12 lectures, Michaelmas & Lent Terms)

Though our medicine had in its essential features been made by World War I, only in the 20th century did it become a major economic and political concern, and a profession with extraordinarily far-reaching authority in the management and even definition of human life. Highlighting the turning points of World War II and the crisis of the early 1970s, this course explores the creation of medical research and the 'biomedical complex', the establishment of Western health-care systems and the politics of global health, and such new technologies as insulin, penicillin, the oral contraceptive pill and in vitro fertilization. The lectures also introduce the powerful critiques these innovations have provoked.

Science, Technology and Global Power
Mary Brazelton, Joseph Martin (10 lectures, Lent Term)

This course considers the history of science and technology from the end of World War II through the present day. After their wartime successes, scientists played a crucial and sometimes controversial role in postwar politics, whether debating the future of atomic energy or envisioning pathways for global development. They successfully lobbied for the resources to maintain and even expand scientific research from the already unprecedented levels seen during the war. In the process, they established many of the institutions for science and technology that we live amidst today. The lectures will explore the history of these individuals and institutions, giving particular attention to how Cold War concerns shaped research in nearly every field, from physics to biology, ecology to computing – and generated new critiques of science in the process. The lectures will also explore trends that have characterized science and technology since the Cold War, including attention to international collaborations on expensive, expansive research programs and ever-greater reliance on sophisticated computer and communications technologies.

Preliminary reading

  • Agar, Jon, Science in the 20th Century and Beyond (Cambridge: Polity, 2012)
  • Comfort, Nathaniel, The Science of Human Perfection (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012)
  • Edgerton, David, The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (London: Profile, 2006)
  • Epstein, Steven, Impure Science (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996)
  • Kohler, Robert, Lords of the Fly: Drosophila Genetics and the Experimental Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994)
  • Lawrence, Christopher, Medicine in the Making of Modern Britain (London: Routledge, 1994)
  • Oakley, Ann, The Captured Womb (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984)
  • Oshinsky, David, Polio: An American Story (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)
  • Rhodes, Richard, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (London: Simon & Schuster, 2012 [1986])
  • Skloot, Rebecca, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (New York: Crown, 2010)
  • Traweek, Sharon, Beamtimes and Lifetimes: The World of High Energy Physicists (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992)
  • Wailoo, Keith, and Stephen Pemberton, The Troubled Dream of Genetic Medicine (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006)
  • Watson, James, Alexander Gann and Jan Witkowski, The Annotated and Illustrated Double Helix (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012)

Resources for Paper 4 on Moodle