HPSC0000 Zoos in Science and Culture (Teaching)

HPSC3051 Zoos in Science and Culture | Professor Joe Cain | UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS)

We once loved zoos. They stood as an important symbol of science at its best. In the 21st century, this changed. Zoos are at the centre of many debates about the role of science in society, about the limits of human-animal interactions, and about the future of biodiversity in the wild. The module explores history, ethics, and policy as they relate to zoos. Students will have opportunities to research and debate. Most important, they’ll have an opportunity to *think* about the role of zoos as centres of science, science communication, and cultural engagement. We’ll also have opportunities to visit several different types of zoo spaces in London.

The module code number HPSC0070 has been reassigned from “Zoos in Science and Culture” to “Eugenics in Science and Culture“.

Professor Joe Cain taught this module at UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS). This previously used the UCL module code HPSC3051.


  • One 4,000 essay
  • No examination


  • no longer on offer



HPSC3051 aims include:

  • equip students to critically question and analyze the social, political and ethical aspects of ongoing science and technology
  • integrate key themes in history and philosophy of science, science communication, and science policy
  • develop analytical and interpretative skills using relatively commonplace elements of science and technology
  • think more about zoos and develop mature views as to their place in culture and their value for the purposes claimed by advocates and critics alike


By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • describe key elements in the history and philosophy of science as they relate to zoos
  • describe key elements of science communication found in zoos and zoo-like spaces
  • describe key elements of science policy as they relate to zoos and related sites of science
  • critically analyze the social, political and ethical aspects of zoos
  • relate key insights from HPS and STS to known and novel cases of zoos
  • demonstrate an ability to research HPS and STS questions, producing substantial packages of information, well organized and clearly focused
  • effectively communicate their views

The course will improve:

  1. ability to interpret events
  2. ability to work in an interdisciplinary fashion
  3. ability to apply abstract models to particular instances
  4. ability to integrate social, cultural, political, industrial and economic contexts of science
  5. ability to communicate ideas clearly in ways appropriate to the context
  6. ability to communicate ideas effectively

For students in other degree programmes, the course will increase:

  1. awareness of the evolving and complex role of STM in public policy, past and present; likewise, the relations between STM and the State more generally, and STM and values
  2. awareness of the influence of culture on scientific ideas, practices, resources and opportunities; that STM sometimes shows distinct differences when undertaken by different people in different cultures
  3. awareness that the understanding and use of STM information and knowledge changes in different settings and can vary between different groups

Improving writing skill – prose that is clear, deliberate, and to the point – is an ancillary objective of essay assignment.

Module plan

This module has three activities: class time, coursework, and visits to zoos or zoo-like places.

Class time

This module has a 1x2hour class time structure. These sessions will mix traditional lecture, seminar discussion, small group projects, and peer debates. The goals are to present new content, introduce students to alternative perspective, engage key source materials, and identify possible answers to core issues. Sessions are constructed around specific themes and questions, preparatory readings are provided. Students are expected to have read and reflected upon the core reading prior to the scheduled session.


One 4,000-word essay will be assigned. This will be in the form of an advocacy paper. Details are below, as are the general criteria for assessment. There is no examination. The essay contributes 100% to the module mark.

Because this is an advanced, third-year module, students are expected to use advanced research and analytical skills in their work. Their work should reflect substantial independent learning. It also should reflect substantial effort condensed into a compact product. Students may bring to bear whatever resources they think may be applicable to their arguments; however, all submissions must be solely and exclusively their own work. Support sessions will be provided for the essay throughout the term, with additional information provided in class sessions.


This course requires thinking about zoos and zoo-like spaces. Students are encouraged to visit London facilities that present themselves as zoos and zoo-like spaces. Boundaries will be important, so they are equally encouraged to visit spaces that seem near to the mark. Each class session will include mention of London and near-London resources.

Owing to time constraints in the module, students will need to visit some of these as part of their independent learning for the module. The module tutor will attempt to organize at least one collective visit.