HPSC0081 Science in the Nineteenth Century

HPSCGA24 Science in the Nineteenth Century | Professor Joe Cain | UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS)

The nineteenth century saw the origin of much of what we might identify as “modern” scientific and technological research and practice. Laboratories, factories explorations, empires – all had scientific significance and all were paramount in nineteenth century science. This is also perhaps the period which has enjoyed most sustained attention from historians of science. This course will give a critical introduction to some major themes of nineteenth century science, from a range of historical approaches.

Professor Joe Cain teaches this module (with other colleagues) in UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS). The formal module code is HPSC0081. It formerly was coded HPSCGA24.


  • 15% source analysis
  • 85% research paper

Timetable 2020-21



This is a Masters-level module. HPSC0081 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 regarding content and historiography
  • study this period in an integrated way, combining written sources, material artifacts, physical geography, and cultural geography
  • while the focus is primarily on the British diaspora, this module will integrate some limited material from other contexts and geographies

The nineteenth century is a subject given considerable attention in English-speaking academic communities. The secondary literature is enormous. Another aim is to further develop the ability to assess interpretative work and relate evidence to interpretations.

Primary sources will make up some of the essential 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.



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

  • demonstrate key themes in 19thC science, both in content and historiography
  • demonstrate an ability to research historical topics, including collecting and assessing primary sources, and relating primary sources to historiographical themes,
  • demonstrate an ability to test historiographical arguments and develop relational points
  • 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 two components: seminars and writing. Two writing projects will be required: an analysis of source material and a research proposal.


A series of seminars is timetabled, with two contact hours per week. Seminars are related to specific required readings, and students should come to seminar having read the essential material. They should be prepared to actively discuss that material and engage with others. Additional readings and Web sites are suggested for continued investigation of module topics. I expect students to actively engage module themes.

Writing projects

  • 1,000-word analysis of source material
  • 4,000-word research paper

For more information about “Science in the Nineteenth Century”

Contact Professor Joe Cain.