Reading Artifacts: The Material Culture of Science
HIST 63.02, Department of History, Dartmouth College, Spring 2021, 2022, and 2023
In addition to its written documents, the history of science can be understood through its physical artifacts: through microscopes and mastodon molars, maps and masks, sawfish snouts, botanical drawings, dioramas, and even human remains. Focusing on European and American scientific inquiry and collecting, and especially the years before 1800, this course introduces students to the historical study of material culture. Through learning about the varied types of tangible things involved in scientific study, as well as the many ways historical people and institutions have approached material artifacts, students will understand more broadly how objects and collections both reflect and shape a culture’s knowledge systems, identities, and values. By encountering historical artifacts and historical ways of seeing objects, students will also learn how to incorporate objects as sources into their own research as historians. Above all, in an era of technological saturation, they will learn to slow down and to look closely.
Scientific Revolutions and Modern Society
HIST 57, Department of History, Dartmouth College, Winter 2023
This course surveys the history of science over the past half-millennium. We will ask: What does it mean to practice science, what has it meant to practice science historically, and what does it mean to practice the history of science?
Our guiding framework will be scientific revolution, broadly conceived. The first half of the course centers on the so-called Scientific Revolution of the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. During the early modern period, developments in astronomy, physics, navigation, and natural history reoriented Western understandings of the nature of the globe, the universe, and life itself. But for decades, historians have debated whether something commonly called the Scientific Revolution actually ever existed. In addition to understanding the breakthroughs of well-known figures like Copernicus, Newton, and Linnaeus, we will study the contributions of Islamic scientists, female astronomers, Japanese honzōgaku researchers, and enslaved and Indigenous naturalists to the early sciences. We will learn how this period formed the basis for modernity and the scientific method. We’ll also hear of magic, aliens, and alchemy, complicating our view of what it means to be modern and scientific. The second half of the course considers the legacy of the so-called Scientific Revolution for the following two centuries.