Saturday, December 26, 2015

Syllabus - History of Science since Newton (Undergrad)

I recently got some bad news that I won't be able to teach a course I've been preparing, History of Science since Newton, in Spring 2016. Instead, I will be taking over a course on "Peoples of the United States," exploring the different ethnic/social/identity groups in American history, and the tension between multi-cultural and "melting pot" ideals. It will be an exciting opportunity to expand my expertise into an area adjacent to my normal work.

I expect I'll use the history of science syllabus eventually, but in case it can be helpful to anyone else planning a similar course (or anyone in the public interested in good reading on these topics), I thought I would post the syllabus here.

Since this was to be the first time I've taught this particular course, it's a very straight-forward and standard structure: a midterm, paper, and final exam. In a future where I have someone to help with grading, I would love to add another paper (or two) early in the semester, to give students early and frequent feedback, and possibly smaller research-skill-building extra credit assignments as well. An example might be a 'scavenger hunt' for a small list of books and articles that aren't all immediately available in the library, and coordinate with a librarian to ensure the students have guidance on how to acquire them.

I'm especially interested in getting students engaged with a few themes and questions, including:

  • What is science?: Seeing the many different things that have been called 'science,' how the 'scientific method' described a huge array of techniques, and through this, seeing that we really can (and should) see this big cultural thing called science as something we can't explain away as natural or obvious
  • What are the ties between science and technology?
  • What does it mean to say that science is social, human institution? I'm not interested in 'debunking' or putting down science, though sometimes I get students who are very enthusiastic about science and get anxious when we suggest its values aren't often its realities. I am interested in making it clear that the social dimension is fundamental and not something to regret or be overcome. Science is what scientists do.
  • More concretely, the role of war and national security in shaping science is a recurring theme.
This syllabus emphasizes the 20th century, partly because it's my area of greatest expertise, partly because students often see the connections to the present more readily for the more recent past. In some ways it's better to cover more ground, in others it's better to give more detail about a few topics. I've seen courses like this that went to an extreme of just covering a few episodes in close details (Newton, Darwin, and the Manhattan Project, in that case). I've seen others that try for broader coverage. I think this is a reasonable balance.

Finally, I'm interested in keeping the course as cheap as possible for students. The book I've assigned are available for a total of $57 used from Amazon as of this writing, and possible cheaper with a more thorough search using and other sources. I think that's reasonable, but it's something to consider. You might be able to get away with something a little cheaper.

Anyway, here's the syllabus:


History 382 – History of Science/Technology since Newton
 Spring 2016 | 3 credits

            Douglas Michael O'Reagan
            Office hours: Mondays 12-1pm, CIC 125K; or
                                   by appointment, including via Skype/Google Hangouts/email

This course addresses how science, technology, and society have mutually influenced one another from the time of Isaac Newton (the 17th century) through the present. Beginning with the natural philosophy of the Early Modern era, which was the pursuit of a small number of elite Europeans, we will move through science's expansion into a global enterprise under American leadership. Major themes of the course will include the relationship between religion and science; the changing nature of the 'scientist,' as that title came into existence and then came to mean different things; the inherent politics of new technologies; and how national security and state spending have been fundamental in making science what it is today, in terms of both organization and content.

Course Goals:

This course is designed around WSU's Seven Learning Goals, especially:

Critical and creative thinking
·        Integrate and synthesize knowledge from multiple sources.
·        Assess the accuracy and validity of findings and conclusions.
·        Understand how one thinks, reasons, and makes value judgments, including ethical and aesthetical judgments.
·        Understand diverse viewpoints, including different philosophical and cultural perspectives.
·        Combine and synthesize existing ideas, images, or expertise in original ways.
Scientific Literacy
  • Identify scientific issues underlying global, national, local and personal decisions and communicate positions that are scientifically and technologically informed.
  • Recognize the societal benefits and risks associated with scientific and technological advances.
Information Literacy
  • Determine the extent and type of information needed. 
  • Implement well-designed search strategies.
  • Access information effectively and efficiently from multiple sources. 
  • Assess credibility and applicability of information sources.
  • Use information to accomplish a specific purpose.
  • Access and use information ethically and legally. 

Course Requirements:

Weekly reading: Each week, you will be expected to read about 80-100 pages of material. It is crucial that you finish these readings by Friday of each week. Most Fridays will consists of in-class discussion of the readings, and these discussions will weigh heavily in your class participation grade.

Weekly Discussion Questions: Based off of the readings, you will have to submit three discussion questions to Blackboard by Thursday night at 11:59pm. We will discuss what kinds of questions are most effective. Questions with factual answers (e.g. "What element did Lavoisier discover?") are NOT good questions. Questions that inspire debate and discussion (e.g. "Should we consider Lavoisier or Priestley the discoverer of Oxygen?") are much better.

Midterm/final exams: Exams will consist of two sections. In the first section, you will be given a number of key terms or names, and your job will be to define and explain the significance of several of the options, within about 3-5 sentences each. The second section will be a longer essay, drawing on lectures, readings, and discussions.

Research paper: Students will write a 6-8 page paper (double-spaced, 1" margins, 12-point font) on a topic of their choosing, selected in consultation with the instructor.
            Due dates:     Topic and suggested sources: March 28
                                    Final paper:                            April 29

Lateness policy: All assignments must be turned in by 12pm on their due-date. Any assignments submitted late will lose 2/3 of a grade per day (for example, a B+ becomes a B-, or a B becomes a C+). In exceptional, rare circumstances, you can pre-arrange an extension with me.


            Class Participation (40%) – Includes doing readings before class
Midterm exam (15%)
Research paper (20%)
            Final exam (25%)

Required Texts:

We will be using the following books in this class. I include the specific pages for you to judge whether it is best to buy a copy or attempt to check a copy out of the library.

·        Peter J. Bowler, Evolution: The History of an Idea, revised (or 25th anniv.) edition. (p. 1-26, 96-223, 274-324)
·        Kate Brown, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (p.1-74, 165-188, 271-281, 287-296, 313-318, 331-338)
·        Thomas Hughes, American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm, 1870-1970. (p. 1-137, 184-248, 353-443)
·        Jeffrey P. Moran, The Scopes Trial: A Brief History with Documents. (p. 1-72)
·        Audra Wolfe, Competing with the Soviets: Science, Technology, and the State in Cold War America. (entire book)
Course Readings:

All course readings should be available to you via the library, and for convenience I will copy many of them to Blackboard for the semester.


Intro: What is science?

Scientific Revolution? Newton, Leibniz, and national science

·        Kuhn – The Essential Tension excerpt, p. x-xiii. (on Blackboard)
·        Andrew Cunningham, "Getting the Game Right: Some Plain Words on the Identity and Invention of Science," Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science Vol. 19, No. 3 (1988), p.365-389. (on Blackboard)
·        Shapin, "The Man of Science," ch. 6 of the Cambridge History of Science, vol. 3, p.179-191 (on Blackboard)
·        Schiebinger, "Women of Natural Knowledge," ch. 7 of the Cambridge History of Science Vol. 3, p.192-205 (on Blackboard)
o   You don't need to read every word of this one, or to understand everything he's writing about. Just skim through it, looking at what kinds of things he's discussing, his writing style, and how he argues his case. Question to focus on: In what ways does this seem like what we might expect from a scientific article today?

No Class (Martin Luther King Jr. Day)

Enlightenment, the Church, and Science

·        Reill, "The Legacy of the 'Scientific Revolution': Science and the Enlightenment," ch. 2 of the Cambridge History of Science Vol. 4, p.23-43. (on Blackboard)
·        Brooke, "Science and Religion," ch. 4 of the Cambridge History of Science Vol. 4, p.741-761 (on Blackboard)
·        Read the Wikipedia entry on the Encyclop├ędie (, then browse through at least 5-6 articles from it (

Chemical Revolution

Empire and science; a growing world

·        John G. McEvoy, “Continuity and Discontinuity in the Chemical Revolution,” Osiris 4 (1988), 195-213. (
·        McClellan, "Scientific Institutions and the Organization of Science," ch. 4 of the Cambridge History of Science Vol. 4, p.87-106 (on Blackboard)
·        "Astronomy and Empire," BBC's In Our Time podcast (
·        Hughes, American Genesis p.1-52
o   This reading is a little out of place, so don't get too confused as to why it's assigned here. We need to read it so we can read more of Hughes later and have a sense of what he's discussing.

Models of Education: Universities in America and Germany

Age of the Earth; 19th century science

  • Bowler, Evolution p.1-26, 96-176
  • Nicoladis and Chatzis, "Technological Traditions and National Identities: A Comparison between France and Great Britain during the XIXth Century," from Science, Technology and the 19th Century State, p.13-21 (on Blackboard)
·        "Darwin: The Voyage of the Beagle," BBC's In Our Time podcast (


Social Darwinism

·        Bowler, Evolution 177-223, 274-324

No Class (Presidents' Day)

Industry and Inventors

·        Hughes, American Genesis p. 53-95, 184-248



Interlude: Philosophy of Science
Recommended Reading:
·        Frank Pajares, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: A Synopsis from the original" (
·        "Karl Popper," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Sections 2 (Backdrop), 3 (Demarcation), 4 (Human Knowledge), 9 (Critical Evaluation)
·        "Lorraine Daston," Episode 2 of How to Think About Science podcast (

Eugenics, New Biology, Germ Theory

Scopes Trial, Religion and Science redux

  • Moran, The Scopes Trial p. 1-72
  • Lynne Osman Elkin, “Rosalind Franklin and the Double Helix,” Physics Today 56:3 (2003), 42-49. (

Modern Physics and Einstein

Social Science, Public Health, Vaccines/flu


·        Cathryn Carson, History of Modern Physics (HIST 181B) lectures

Get started on next week's reading! It's a little longer than usual
Chemists' War (WWI)

Physicists' War (WWII)

·        Hughes, American Genesis p. 96-137, 353-443
·        Crawford, Sime, and Walker, "A Nobel Tale of Postwar Injustice," Physics Today (on Blackboard)

Science and Diplomacy


Big Science and the Postwar State

·        Wolfe, Competing with the Soviets p.1-88

Soviet Science; Science in the 'Third World'

Space Race

·        Wolfe, Competing with the Soviets p.89-140
·        Doel, "Evaluating Soviet Lunar Science in Cold War America," Osiris Vol. 7, (1992), p.238-264 (on Blackboard)
·        "Lysenkoism," BBC's In Our Time podcast (

Nuclear Fear / Plutopia

Resistance: Environmentalism and Beyond

·        Brown, Plutopia p.1-74 (origins of Hanford), 165-188 (disasters)

Global Warming, Anti-nuclear movements, and Expertise

History of Computing, History of Information

  • Brown, Plutopia 271-281 (memory), 287-296 (1984), 313-318 (Cassandra), 331-338 (Futures)
  • Spencer Weart, "Global Warming, Cold War, and the Evolution of Research Plans,"  Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences. Vol. 27 (2) 1997, p.319-356
·        Matthew Wisnioski, "Inside 'The System': Engineers, scientists, and the boundaries of social protest in the long 1960s." History and Technology 19 (2003):  313-333.  (on Blackboard)

Current Issues: Intellectual Property Law/Policy

Current Issues: [To Be Determined by Class]

Wrap-up and Review


General WSU Policies:

Academic Honesty:
Academic dishonesty, including all forms of cheating, plagiarism, and fabrication, is prohibited, as is knowingly facilitating academic dishonesty. The expectation of the university is that all students will accept these standards and conduct themselves as responsible members of the academic community.
These standards should be interpreted by students as general notice of prohibited conduct. They should be read broadly, and are not designed to define misconduct in exhaustive forms. Faculty and their departments have jurisdiction over academic dishonesty discovered in their courses.

For this course, and all courses at WSUTC, you are responsible to understand and adhere to the

Plagiarism is "knowingly representing the work of another as one's own, without proper acknowledgment of the source .... Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to, submitting as one's own work the work of a 'ghost writer' or work obtained from a commercial writing service; quoting directly or paraphrasing closely from a source without giving proper credit; using figures, graphs, charts, or other such material without identifying the sources." Each student is responsible for knowing and adhering to the university's standards for honesty in his/her academic work.

For a first violation of the academic honesty policy, students will fail the assignment, the office in charge of student conduct will be notified of the violation, and the student may be required to attend a workshop. For a second offense, the student may appear before the university conduct board and may be dismissed from the university. Exception: if the instructor or board determines that the academic dishonesty is particularly egregious or blatant the student may be dismissed from the university, even if it is the first offense.

Students can find the WSU copyright policy at Students are expected to read and adhere to this policy and copyright laws.

Severe weather:
The university does not close except under the most adverse conditions. If the decision is made to close the campus or delay the instructional day, key staff members and the news media will be notified. The closure status will also be posted on If no notification is given, then students may assume that classes will proceed as usual.

Cases of severe weather should not affect our online course.

In the event of any emergency, call 911. If you hear a fire alarm sound, leave the class and take your belongings (car keys, coats, backpacks, etc) with you. Exit the building immediately to your staging area, which is the Cougar Garden for East and West Buildings or the West Parking Lot for CIC
Building. Stay in these areas during an evacuation until released. Evacuation routes are posted inside the door of each classroom. Remember that elevators do not work and fire doors swing closed during a fire alarm.

Review the Campus Safety Plan ( and visit the Office of Emergency
Management web site ( for a comprehensive listing of university policies, procedures, statistics, and information related to campus safety, emergency management, and the health and welfare of the campus community.

Everyone should become familiar with the WSU ALERT site ( where information about emergencies and other issues affecting WSU will be found. This site also provides information on the communication resources WSU will use to provide warning and notification during emergencies. It should be bookmarked on your computers.

Americans with disability act (ADA)
Reasonable accommodations are available for students who have a documented disability. Classroom accommodation forms are available through the Disability Services Office. If you have a documented disability (even temporary) make an appointment as soon as possible with Disability Services. More information is available at:

You will need to provide your instructor with the appropriate classroom accommodation form from
Disability Services during the first week of class. Late notification may mean that requested accommodations might not be available. All accommodations for disabilities must be approved through the Disability Services Coordinator.

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