Current Courses

Autumn 2013

Introduction to the History of Science, HIST 118
Science is one of the defining features of Western society. However, that science is a relatively recent development, within the past couple centuries. And its development was neither preordained nor unproblematic. The goal of this course is to introduce the early history of how humans tried to understand the natural world around them. Although the specific focus of the course will vary slightly from year to year, it will usually extend from Greek antiquity through the late medieval period. An important component of the course will be developments in both Islamic and Byzantine societies. The course will conclude by looking briefly at the intellectual crises that occurred in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. We will approach the subject through secondary material and by confronting primary documents (usually texts) in an effort to understand various contexts—e.g., political, social, religious, economic—that fostered particular understandings of nature.

Geographies of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe

Spring 2014

Collecting Nature and Displaying Authority: Museums and Scientific Knowledge in Early Modern Europe, HIST 259
It is widely held that scientific enquiry changed radically between the 15th and the 18th centuries, the period regularly associated with the scientific Revolution. There is less agreement on how to account for that change. Without trying to explain why or even if the scientific Revolution occurred, this course assumes that historians can learn a lot about the period by studying the changes that occurred in collecting and displaying nature.
Collecting and displaying natural and artificial artifacts have always been entwined with a host of political, social, and intellectual motivations and goals. By focusing on the interplay of these different contexts and competing interests, we will begin to appreciate the development of public museums; how that relates to the rise of experimental science; the emergence of public institutions devoted to science and the study of nature. In short, the fortunes of Kunstkammer and Cabinets of Curiosity are intimately related to the rise of modern science culture and for that reason merit our attention.

Technologies and Politics in Early Modern Europe