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Astronomy in World History (HPSC20015)

Undergraduate level 2Points: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelUndergraduate Level 2
Subject codeHPSC20015
Summer Term
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

In many cultures the study of celestial phenomena has taken a central role in the attempts to understand the world they lived in. The apparent regularity of sun, moon and stars enabled observers to formulate rules for the behaviour of celestial bodies and infer various conclusions from these rules, ranging from cosmological models to astrological predictions. The subject will study how astronomical knowledge has developed throughout the world. It combines simple astronomical observations and study of historical instruments with classes discussing the development of astronomy in different cultures ranging from East Asia via the Middle East and Europe to Central America and Australia.

Central questions will be: How were the same phenomena interpreted in different cultures? How were astronomical observations done? What political and religious functions did astronomy have? How was astronomical knowledge transmitted between different cultures? Why did early modern Europe become the place that developed the idea of modern science and how did other civilisations react to the astronomical developments in Europe? The subject will thus give an overview of the origins of our modern world view while offering reflections on cross-cultural studies of science.

Intended learning outcomes

Students who successfully complete this subject will:

  • possess a deep knowledge of central developments in the history of astronomical thought;
  • have developed skills in elementary astronomical observations;
  • comprehend the complex relation between the cultural foundations of science and the study of natural phenomena;
  • appreciate the cultural differences in the study of nature while being able to assume a comparative perspective;
  • be able to conduct independent research including the appropriate use of primary and secondary sources in mounting an historical argument;
  • have developed effective communication and presentation skills (written and oral), and the ability to collaborate constructively within the classroom;
  • demonstrate ethical integrity in written work and classroom activities

Last updated: 11 October 2019