History and Science

Professor Steven Shapin, Director of Undergraduate Studies

The History and Science concentration at Harvard is a flourishing interdisciplinary field of study. It was established in the early part of the 20th century by Harvard scientists who believed that students who combined the study of history with the study of science would become both better scientists and better citizens in a world increasingly influenced by science and technology. Most instruction in the concentration now takes place within the Department of the History of Science, which was itself created in the mid-1960s, and formal responsibility for granting undergraduate degrees is held by the department.

We are a small concentration and are able to give students careful, one-on-one instruction and supervision. Tutorial courses are aimed at sharpening students’ reading and writing abilities. By the time of graduation our concentrators know how to do advanced research, and often produce original academic work of very high quality.

The program offers students a variety of opportunities to expand their understanding of the scientific enterprise, to explore in detail how science has developed in history, and how science has shaped other human activities. Students focus on many topics and time periods -- medieval understandings of women’s bodies, ancient Chinese medicine, the emergence of the computer in the 20th-century, the scientific revolution in the time of Galileo, Boyle, and Newton, the rise of Darwinian evolution, the birth of the classical physical universe, the Einsteinian revolution, the history of modern psychiatry, the history of modern American medicine, the rise of environmental science, and much more. In their studies, they will be challenged in a range of ways to ask big questions about science, medicine, and technology, and their place in human societies across time, questions like: What are science, medicine, and technology, how do scientists come to know things about the natural world, what are some social, ethical, political and religious implications of science, how do they affect the way people in different times and places live their lives?

In the fall of 2008, the concentration implemented a new two-track structure that provides students with new levels of flexibility. Both of the new tracks offer an honors and a non-honors option.

The Science and Society track is designed for students who have an interest in doing significant course work in an area of science but who also want to study how science develops and affects the world: how it relates to industry, policy, politics and the broader culture. This track may be especially attractive for students who want to pursue a career in public health, medicine, or science policy. Students can both do science and reflect about what science is. A special focus within this track, called “Medicine and Society,” allows students to fulfill many of their pre-medical school requirements while doing sustained work in the history of medicine, health policy, and medical ethics.

The History of Science track does not require students to take science courses beyond the level mandated by General Education (though some may choose to do so and receive concentration credit), but it does offer students the possibility of studying the history and social relations of science more broadly. By taking a combination of courses from our department and also outside of it, students can learn how sciences as diverse as theoretical physics and economics interact with other areas of culture such as literature, film, art, or government.

Every concentrator will take History of Science 100 (Knowing the World: An Introduction to the History of Science), which is offered in the fall semester. In addition, every concentrator will take one semester of sophomore tutorial and one semester of junior tutorial, taught by faculty members and teaching fellows from the Department of the History of Science.

History of Science 97, the sophomore tutorial, introduces students to important episodes in the history of science and the challenges of historical research and interpretation as they present themselves in primary, secondary, and archival materials. Students meet in small groups of six to eight with individual tutors. Weekly lectures supplement tutorial readings and written assignments.

History of Science 98, the junior tutorial, is a research seminar designed to help students come to a better understanding of the craft of historical research and writing. Students meet in small groups of eight to ten. Students who wish to write a senior thesis must meet certain standards by the end of the research seminar, and will be recommended for admission to History of Science 99, the senior tutorial.

Students choosing to write a senior thesis may be supervised by a faculty member or an advanced graduate student, and are free to pursue a diverse range of topics. Some examples of theses recently written by students in the concentration include: “On Lawrence Summers, Women, and Science: Changing Debates About the Biology of Sex Differences at Harvard Since 1969,” “The Uncivilized Camera: Television Technology and the Vietnam War,” “Not Gonna Crack? The Unlikely Story of How Lithium Broke into Modern Psychiatry,” “From Whaling to Whale Watching: Human Interaction With Whales in Coastal Massachusetts, 1820-1992,” “Population as Discourse: Medicine in Late Colonial Kenya,” “A ‘Special Relationship’?: Responsibility and the Development of Mental Health Resources at Harvard, 1900-2007,” “The Good Doctor: Placebos and Science in American Medicine, 1900-1965,” and “Wild Goose Chase: The Communal Science of Waterfowl Migration Study in North America, 1880-1940.” Many of our theses go on to win College awards, and some have even been published. Students are welcome to look through the collection of past and present senior theses that are located in the Department of the History of Science.

Our graduates frequently go on to successful careers in many areas, including medicine, law, journalism, government, business, finance, and academia. Employers are increasingly looking for graduates who are not just literate but also scientifically literate, not just technically skilled in a special subject but able to see the larger cultural, social, and policy implications and impact of scientific and technical developments. If this kind of breadth of vision appeals, our concentration may be right for you.

REQUIREMENTS

For students entering the concentration in Fall 2008 or later.
Other students should refer to the Handbook for Students from the year in which they declared their concentration.

History of Science track
Basic Requirements: 11 half-courses

  1. Required courses:

    1. History of Science 100: Knowing the World: Introduction to the History of Science.

    2. Six half-courses in the history of science, medicine, and technology. One should be a broad gateway course and another one should be a department conference course (or a 200-level course, with the approval of the instructor). One may include supervised reading and research, or another special project. No more than two of the courses may be introductory, and one must cover a period of time before 1800.

    3. Two courses, normally outside the department, designed to allow students to connect special interests in the history of science to relevant course work offered in other departments; examples include certain courses in history, film studies, sociology, religion, medical anthropology, philosophy of science, and literature.

  2. Tutorials:

    1. Sophomore year: History of Science 97 (one half-course) required, group tutorial. Letter-graded.

    2. Junior year: History of Science 98 (one term) required. Letter-graded.

  3. Thesis: None.

  4. General Examination: None.

  5. Other information:

    1. Pass/Fail: Two non-letter graded courses, including relevant Freshman Seminars taught by department faculty, may count for concentration credit.

    2. Study Abroad: Students may elect to study abroad during their junior year. The department will count up to two approved courses out of residence towards concentration requirements. Please consult with the director of undergraduate studies or the manager of student programs for more information.

History of Science track
Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 13 half-courses

  1. Required courses:

    1. History of Science 100: Knowing the World: Introduction to the History of Science.

    2. Six half-courses in the history of science, medicine, and technology. One should be a broad gateway course and another one should be a department conference course (or a 200-level course, with the approval of the instructor). One may include supervised reading and research, or another special project. No more than two of the courses may be introductory, and one must cover a period of time before 1800.

    3. Two courses, normally outside the department, designed to allow students to connect special interests in the history of science to relevant course work offered in other departments; examples include certain courses in history, film studies, sociology, religion, medical anthropology, philosophy of science, and literature.

  2. Tutorials:

    1. Sophomore year: History of Science 97 (one term) required, group tutorial. Letter-graded.

    2. Junior year: History of Science 98 (one term) required. Letter-graded.

    3. Senior year: History of Science 99 (two terms) required (preparation of senior honors thesis). Letter-graded.

  3. Thesis: Required.

  4. General Examination: None.

  5. Other information:

    1. Pass/Fail: Two non-letter graded courses, including relevant Freshman Seminars taught by Department faculty, may count for concentration credit.

    2. Study Abroad: Students may elect to study abroad during their junior year. The department will count up to two approved courses out of residence towards concentration requirements. Please consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the Manager of Student Programs for more information.

Science and Society Track
Basic Requirements: 11 half-courses

  1. Required courses:

    1. History of Science 100: Knowing the World: Introduction to the History of Science.

    2. Four half-courses in the history of science, medicine, and technology. Normally, at least three of the four courses must be in the history of science. One may include supervised reading and research, or another special project. Historically-oriented courses in other fields may be counted towards this requirement (with the approval of the Director of Undergraduate Studies). No more than two of the courses may be introductory, and one must cover a period of time before 1800.

    3. Four half-courses in science, all in one coherent field, though not necessarily in one department. No more than two may be introductory. Note: Courses may be drawn from any of the physical and biological or life sciences.

  2. Tutorials:

    1. Sophomore year: History of Science 97 (one term) required, group tutorial. Letter-graded.

    2. Junior year: History of Science 98 (one term) required. Letter-graded.

  3. Thesis: None.

  4. General Examination: None.

  5. Other information:

    1. Two non-letter graded courses, including relevant Freshman Seminars taught by department faculty, may count for concentration credit.

    2. Students may elect to study abroad during their junior year. The department will count up to two approved courses out of residence towards concentration requirements. Please consult with the director of undergraduate studies or the manager of student programs for more information.

Science and Society Track
Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 13 half-courses

  1. Required courses:

    1. History of Science 100: Knowing the World: Introduction to the History of Science.

    2. Four half-courses in the history of science, medicine and technology. Normally, at least three of the four courses must be in the history of science. One may include supervised reading and research, or another special project. Historically-oriented courses in other fields may be counted towards this requirement (with the approval of the director of undergraduate studies). No more than two of the courses may be introductory, and one must cover a period of time before 1800.

    3. Four half-courses in science, all in one coherent field, though not necessarily in one department. No more than two may be introductory. Note: Courses may be drawn from any of the physical and biological or life sciences.

  2. Tutorials:

    1. Sophomore year: History of Science 97 (one term) required, group tutorial. Letter-graded.

    2. Junior year: History of Science 98 (one term) required. Letter-graded.

    3. Senior year: History of Science 99 (two terms) required (preparation of senior honors thesis). Letter-graded.

  3. Thesis: Required.

  4. General Examination: None.

  5. Other information:

    1. Pass/Fail: Two non-letter graded courses, including relevant Freshman Seminars taught by department faculty, may count for concentration credit.

    2. Study Abroad: Students may elect to study abroad during their junior year. The department will count up to two approved courses out of residence towards concentration requirements. Please consult with the director of undergraduate studies or the manager of student programs for more information.

Medicine and Society
Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 14 half-courses

The Medicine and Society focus in the Science and Society track is appropriate for students considering a career in medicine, health sciences, health policy, or who otherwise have a pronounced interest in the medical sciences. It allows students to combine course work in many of the scientific subjects required for medical school admission with a coherent program of courses that look at health and medicine from a range of historical, social scientific and humanistic perspectives.

  1. Required courses:

    1. History of Science 100: Knowing the World: Introduction to the History of Science.

    2. Four half-courses in medical sciences. No more than two half-courses may be introductory. Courses should be relevant courses in chemistry, the life sciences, the physical sciences, mathematics, molecular and cellular biology, organismic and evolutionary biology, neurobiology, or human evolutionary biology.

    3. Five additional half-courses:

      1. At least two half-courses must be in the history of medicine or its allied fields (including the life sciences, mind sciences, bioethics, and biotechnology) and be taught by members of the Department of the History of Science.

      2. Two half-courses will normally be drawn from other disciplines concerned with the social, ethical, or humanistic analysis of medicine and health (e.g., anthropology, economics, ethics, sociology).

      3. One half-course may be an open-ended elective that can be fulfilled by taking any of the courses offered by the Department of the History of Science.

  2. Tutorials:

    1. Sophomore year: History of Science 97 (one term) required, group tutorial. Letter-graded.

    2. Junior year: History of Science 98 (one term) required. Letter-graded.

    3. Senior year: History of Science 99 (two terms) required (preparation of senior honors thesis; normally, this will deal with some historical question to do with medicine and health, broadly understood.). Letter-graded.

  3. Thesis: Required.

  4. General Examination: None.

  5. Other information:

    1. Pass/Fail: Two non-letter graded courses, including relevant Freshman Seminars taught by department faculty, may count for concentration credit.

    2. Study Abroad: Students may elect to study abroad during their junior year. The department will count up to two approved courses out-of-residence towards concentration requirements. Please consult with the director of undergraduate studies or the manager of student programs for more information.

More information may be found in the Focus in Medicine and Society guide, which is available in the Undergraduate Office, Science Center 355. Students may also consult the History of Science department website.

Mind, Brain, and Behavior Sciences
Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 14 half-courses

Students interested in integrating serious study of the sciences of mind, brain, and behavior with thoughtful attention to sociocultural, philosophical, and historical questions raised by those sciences may pursue a Mind, Brain, and Behavior (MBB) focus in History and Science, developed in collaboration with the Standing Committee on Neuroscience and the University-wide Mind/ Brain/Behavior Interfaculty Initiative. (Mind, Brain, and Behavior tracks are also available in Human Evolutionary Biology, Computer Science, Linguistics, Philosophy, and Psychology.) Requirements for this program are based on those of the Science and Society track, except that:

  1. At least three of the five sociocultural half-courses should be historical in nature. Up to two courses may be taken in an auxiliary area, such as:

    1. Health and Science Policy

    2. Medical Anthropology

    3. Religion and Ethics

    4. Philosophy of Mind & Behavior

  2. The four half-courses in science must include Science of Living Systems 20 (or Science B-62 or Science B-29 for students in the classes of 2010 and 2011); the remaining three half-courses in science must include MCB 80 (ordinarily in the sophomore year), and at least two advanced science courses that focus in one of the following areas:

    1. Cognitive Systems

    2. Psychopathology

    3. Human Evolutionary Biology

    4. Child Development and the Brain

    5. Computational Neuroscience

    6. Neurobiology.

    7. In some circumstances, courses from two areas may be combined.

  3. Students pursuing the MBB track are also expected to participate in the University-wide MBB research milieu, including a non-credit senior year seminar for MBB thesis writers.

History and Science as Part of a Joint Concentration

Joint concentrations must be approved by both participating concentrations. Students who wish to have History and Science as their primary concentration in a joint concentration must meet the regular 13 half-course concentration requirement for History and Science concentrators. Students who wish to have History and Science as the allied field in a joint concentration must meet the following 5 half-course departmental requirement: History of Science 97; History of Science 100; three additional history of science courses, one of which may be introductory. Joint concentrators also enroll in two terms of senior tutorial, normally in the primary concentration.

ADVISING

Professor Steven Shapin is director of undergraduate studies and has overall responsibility for advising in the concentration. He is also available for individual consultation (shapin@fas.harvard.edu). Students seeking advice on course selection, or any other aspect of the concentration, should first contact Alice Belser, the manager of student programs (ajbelser@fas.harvard.edu). Faculty in charge of students’ history of science tutorials also function as advisers: sophomores may consult with the faculty in charge of the sophomore tutorial; juniors with faculty responsible for their junior tutorials; and seniors with the senior tutorial course head.

For up-to-date information on advising in History and Science, please see the Advising Programs Office website.

HOW TO FIND OUT MORE

For more information contact the manager of student programs, Alice Belser, ajbelser@fas.harvard.edu, 617-495-3742, Science Center 355, or the director of undergraduate studies, Professor Steven Shapin, shapin@fas.harvard.edu, 617-384-7997, Science Center 451. Our website is www.fas.harvard.edu/~hsdept/.

CORE AND GENERAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS

Non-exempt areas:

Exempt areas:

Foreign Cultures

Historical Study A

Literature and Arts A

Historical Study B

Literature and Arts B

ONE of the areas marked †, depending on subfield.

Consult the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Literature and Arts C

 

Moral Reasoning

 

Quantitative Reasoning

 

†Science A

 

†Science B

 

Social Analysis

 

For more information on fulfilling the Core requirement, see the Core Curriculum Requirement.

All students—regardless of concentration—planning to graduate under the requirements of the Program in General Education must complete one letter-graded course in each of the eight categories in General Education. The Class of 2013 is the first to enter the College under these requirements. Students who entered Harvard College in September 2008 or earlier are expected to fulfill the requirements of the Core Curriculum, but will be permitted to switch to the Program in General Education if such a change is possible and advisable given their overall schedule and plan of study. For more information on the requirements of the Program in General Education and the possibility of switching to it, please see The Program in General Education in Chapter 2 and the General Education website.

 ENROLLMENT STATISTICS

Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

History and Science

92

88

85

83

109

History and Science + another field

5

3

2

2

4

Another field + History and Science

6

1

0

1

1