MA History / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Decolonizing History of Science

Course unit fact file
Unit code HSTM60652
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


Decolonisation has recently emerged as a pressing issue in contemporary intellectual and political debates. Discussions often centre on how the Eurocentric focus of much historical scholarship overlooks both the violent nature of colonialism and the critical contributions that people and ideas from different cultures have always made to the development of knowledge. A key argument in decolinisation, then, is that we are wrong to presume that modern science is a uniquely European phenomenon. The focus increasingly in the history of science is on deconstructing science as a Western/European discipline and acknowledging non-western and non-European contributions to it.

These efforts are in some ways as old as the discipline itself. Historians have long used concepts and frames such as 'global', 'colonial' and 'translational' to capture the importance of non-European voices and contributions. Yet the history of science continues to be a Eurocentric discipline. These efforts failed to either provide a viable alternative or remained asides to the main narrative of science's history, which continued to focus on European savants, institutions and epistemological framework.

But these assumptions have been thrown into question by the contemporary focus on decolinisation, which is lent urgency by public debates on the Rhodes statue at Oxford University, the toppling of Edward Colston's statue at Bristol, of UCL's supposed eugenic past, and Cambridge University's presumed links with slavery, and, more broadly, by renewed focus on the historical roots of continued racial injustice.

This unit will excplore what it means to decolonise the history of science, in theory and in practice. It will do so by critically exploring the complex relationship between European science and non-western societies and cultures that often drive questions of decolonisation. We will examine established and new scholarship to ask pressing questions about the nature of science and its histories- about their epistemological origins and blindspots- and explore what it means to decolonise in different contexts: in the classroom, in the museum and beyond.


This unit aims to

  • provide students with insight into what decolonising HSTM involves, in theory and practice;
  • help students understand how these changes relate to previous disciplinary approaches, such as global, colonial and postcolonial histories;
  • encourage reflection on broader efforts to decolonise allied fields, such as earth science, medicine and the museum sector;
  • allow students to develop skills in analysing and discussing secondary literature and locating relevant primary sources;
  • enhance students' research and essay writing skills, and provide suitable grounding for a disseration project on new ways of approaching and writing about HSTM.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

Detailed written feedback from primary assessor. 

Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 150

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