HPSC0023 Evolution in Science and Culture (Teaching)

HPSC0023 Evolution in Science and Culture, a course taught by Professor Joe Cain, UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS).
HPSC2013 Module Evaluations - Evolution in Science and Culture - Professor Joe Cain
What do students say? HPSC2013 2017-18 Module evaluations from students. This was the most recent completion of the module.
Evolution is an idea at the heart of modern society. Everything evolves. This module explores the history of evolution as an idea in science and culture, covering topics from the eighteenth century to the present. Yes, it’s about science: Darwin, Darwinism, and evolutionary studies are key. But there is so much more. We explore episodes as diverse as (a) dinosaurs and the origin of life, (b) social Darwinism and corporate capitalism, (c) eugenics, empire, and militarism, (d) the clash in religion between fundamentalism and modernity, and (e) changing views of what it means to be human. We also explore the idea of hero worship and commemoration: for example, why is Darwin buried in Westminster Abbey? In this module, we keep anchored on the life and work of Charles Darwin, but this anchorage provides opportunities to explore far and wide in the history of science and culture.

Professor Joe Cain teaches HPSC0023 at UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS). This course has had two module codes in the past: HPSC2013 and HPSC3027. It was last offered in the 2017-18 session. It’s good to have this module back in the live stream.

About this module


  • 1×3,500-word essay



  • 2022-23 is the most recent syllabus for HPSC0023. It is below.

Comments about the module

From the students

  • “This was such an interesting and enjoyable module. The tutor’s enthusiasm was evident. I never knew Darwin could be so interesting.”
  • “Tutor was so passionate about subject. My favourite module in STS. Handouts very helpful. Never felt pressured or intimidated as in other lectures, very relaxed. Exam format is great, no tricks!”
  • “Everything was great. No improvements needed.”
  • “I really enjoyed these lectures, the entire course was consistently enjoyable.”


As an advanced module, HPSC0023 pursues several kinds of goals. To develop knowledge of content in the history and context of evolutionary studies, this module surveys major themes, actors, and conceptual shifts – in short, what are the big ideas associated with evolution and Darwinism? It seeks to integrate broad historical themes and contexts into this survey.

Primary sources are the foundation of required readings for this module so students may develop skills working with original source materials: their reading, weighting, and critical assessment. To further develop skills in textual analysis and critical assessment, attention will be paid to close reading of secondary materials from different types of sources. This module also asks critical questions about historiography.

The teaching method for this module during contact hours will be lectures and in-class discussions. A schedule of independent reading and research also is set. Module assessment is integrated into this programme.


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

  • demonstrate content knowledge for the module’s domain and historiographical insight into relevant scholarly literature
  • demonstrate the ability to critically interpret both primary and secondary sources
  • demonstrate skill in historical reasoning and comparative analysis
  • approach new material in this module’s domain from a historical perspective and with a critical historian’s eye
  • demonstrate an appreciation for principles of historical contingency, myth making, and icon construction

Module plan

In-person sessions

We meet in person for two hours per week. Sessions are organised around particular themes,, and they will survey key content and historiography relevant to the chosen themes. Preparatory tasks are set for each session via Moodle. Students are encouraged to come to each session having skimmed and reflected on readings set for that day. Close reading of texts will be more productive following the sessions. Additional readings and Web sites are suggested for continued investigation of module topics.

Some sessions will be preceded with pre-recorded materials so time in the in-person setting can be “flipped” to prefer discussion and engagement. Pre-recorded materials are not a substitute for session activities.

Sessions typically have handouts associated with in-class work. These will be posted on Moodle prior to the session. A limited number of paper copies will be available in the room.

Research project

Students are expected to undertake independent research and writing on a topic of their choice within a range of options. Work will be organized into stages, with formative feedback provided to students who submit materials according to prescribed timelines.

Considerable guidance will be available for the research and writing elements of the project. Students also was strongly encouraged to discuss their ideas with peers and to use other support services in the university, such as the Academic Communication Centre.

Independent reading and study

Student frequently sideline the programme’s expectation of independent learning associated with every module. This is a substantial part of our expectation for your knowledge building and skills development. Lecture time is not the only learning you have in the university.

For this module, a superabundance of literature exists, and there is seemingly no end of topics that can be pursued through independent study. This includes making use of London’s extensive cultural assets, such as museums and professional societies. To this, add a consider range of online resources, from scholarly projects to streamed media to podcasts to library recourses.

It’s a mistake to think your tutors only want to engage with you during class sessions. Let me strongly encourage you to make use of office hours and drop-in times to talk about your independent learning and skill development. Let me also strongly encourage you to self-organise reading and discussion groups associated with your studies.

HPSC0023 Syllabus for 2022-23

The syllabus is a roadmap for the module, including the schedule, the required readings, and the assignments.