HPSC0069 Science in Nineteenth Century London

HPSC3050 Science in Nineteenth Century London | Professor Joe Cain | UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS)

The nineteenth century experienced a tremendous expansion of science. This module explores that expansion through the lens of popularization, public engagement, and presentation. We cover a variety of settings, including museums, lecture halls, publishing devices, parlours, and private collections, using London as a focus of our investigations. We also cover a variety of communities and types of activities, including professional societies, amateur clubs, working men’s clubs, and ephemeral consumer activity. How did the many venues come together to create an integrated world in which science was experienced? How do historians relate science in public to science done elsewhere? Do STS analytical tools and concepts help us understand historical activity related to science in public? This module includes visits to some of the surviving attractions of nineteenth century science.

STS’s Promotion of the Module

Professor Joe Cain teaches this module at UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS). This module formerly used the UCL module code HPSC3050.


  • 100% essay, divided into several pieces (5000 words)
  • No examination



  • HPSC0069 Science in Nineteenth Century London syllabus (2018-19)
    This is the most recent offer of the module.


As an advanced module, HPSC0069 pursues several kinds of goals. First, this is a module about the history of science and technology. This includes not only the substance of science, but also the people, places, contexts and consequences that surround and help to shape the course of events. Time is strictly limited in this module, so we’ve made some choices about how to focus the curriculum.

Content aims are straightforward:

  • identify key themes in 19thC science, both content and historiography
  • survey patterns of popularization, public engagement, and presentation in the 19thC, and relate this survey to other periods
  • consider how London functioned as a landscape for 19thC science;
  • study this period in an integrated way, combining written sources, material artifacts, physical geography, and cultural geography

Primary sources make up much of the required readings. The aim is to promote a direct encounter with the activity in this period. Students are expected to further develop their skills working with original source materials: critical reading of testimony and evidence, plus critical reflection on their interpretation and extension. They also will be expected to develop further research skills to integrate archives, museum collections, and digital resources.

The nineteenth century is a subject given considerable attention in English-speaking academic communities. The secondary literature is enormous. This module will use secondary sources to elaborate particular themes as well as to drive interpretation in particular directions. One aim is to introduce some of the main themes in this body of literature. Another aim is to further develop the ability to assess interpretative work and relate evidence to interpretations, and vice versa.

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 of study.



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

  • demonstrate key themes in 19thC science, both content and historiography
  • demonstrate an ability to research historical topics, including collecting and assessing primary sources, relating primary sources to historiographical themes, testing historiographical arguments, and developing relational points.
  • demonstrate an understanding of geographical enablers and constraints as they apply to 19thC London
  • demonstrate professional-level research skills that integrate archives, museum collections, and digital resources

transferrable and key skills

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

  • demonstrate the ability to critically interpret both primary and secondary sources
  • demonstrate skill in historical reasoning and comparative analysis
  • demonstrate skill collecting primary materials relevant to the 19thC
  • relate geographic and architectural knowledge to other types of historical artifacts
  • approach new material in this course’s domain from a historical perspective and with a critical historian’s eye
  • demonstrate critical analysis of science communication and public engagement over a variety of venues

Module plan

Student responsibilities in this module will revolve around three components: lectures, a project, and an examination.

class sessions

A schedule for class sessions is set. Lectures are related to specific themes and essential materials. Lectures critically survey key content and historiography relevant to each theme. This also includes discussions of set readings. Students are expected to come to lecture having read and reflected on discussion materials set for the session. Additional source materials are suggested for continued investigation of module topics. I expect students to actively engage module themes throughout the term.


The assignment for this module is 100% essay of up to 5,000 words maximum, divided into three elements:

  • 1×1000 words – essay – primary source research
  • 1×1000 words – essay – plan
  • 1×3000 words – essay – research

(This will change in future offers to eliminate the 1000 word plan.


This module has no examination.