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In this subject, we embark on a fascinating journey through the history of Western science, exploring changing ideas about the physical world beginning with the birth of natural philosophy in ancient Greece in the sixth century BC until the present day. The subject traces the dominance of Aristotle’s cosmology in the ancient and medieval world, and its subsequent demise during the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We then turn our attention to the emergence of a quantitative and experimental scientific culture that gradually took shape during the Enlightenment, before concluding with a brief look at Albert Einstein’s revolutionary new ideas of light and gravity. We cover topics such as Renaissance humanism, different theories of matter from the middle ages to the nineteenth century; the shift from the earth-centred to the sun-centred universe; Isaac Newton’s influence on the science of the eighteenth century; the search for the unity of forces in nature; and different explanations of the nature of gravity throughout history. This subject offers students a wide-ranging introduction to the history of science and a deeper appreciation of the way in which it has been shaped by social, political and cultural movements.
Intended learning outcomes
Students who successfully complete this subject will:
- develop a broad understanding of the major conceptual shifts that occurred in the history of physical thought;
- develop an appreciation of the way in which wider intellectual and cultural movements shaped knowledge of the physical world in different historical eras;
- acquire an understanding of the different forms of explanation and modes of inquiry in the physical sciences;
- develop and awareness of the difficulties in understanding the thoughts and attitudes of people historically remote from us;
- acquire skills in writing clear, coherent and persuasive analyses of ambiguous and difficult issues;
- acquire skills in comprehending the meaning and historical significance of texts.
Last updated: 1 March 2024