MA History / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Making Life: Biological Science and Society since 1800

Course unit fact file
Unit code HSTM60702
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


This unit explores the radical changes in the character of the biological sciences over the last two centuries. Students taking this module will explore the development of key concepts and theories since 1800, will analyse how sites and institutions both shape and are shaped by biological sciences, and will consider how this history has shaped contemporary debates regarding issues such as genetic engineering and ‘de-extinction’ Our geographical focus will be on developments in Britain and Continental Europe, but with frequent reference where relevant to North America.


  • Provide students with insight into major trends in the history of biological sciences since 1800, such as the emergence of evolutionary thinking in the nineteenth century; the rise of laboratory-based specialisms around 1900; the increasing connections between biological science and medicine; and the dominance of genetics and molecular approaches after 1945;
  • Help students develop an understanding of how these changes have been understood and explained by historians and social scientists;
  • Locate these changes in their broader social, cultural, intellectual and political contexts;
  • Encourage critical reflection on the importance of sites, materials and institutions in the history of biological sciences;
  • Allow students to develop skills in analysing and discussing relevant secondary literature and locating primary sources relating to major issues in the history of biological sciences (see unit description below for examples).
  • Enhance students’ research and essay-writing skills, and provide suitable grounding for dissertation research into the history of the biological sciences.  

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

Detailed written feedback, delivered electronically and in person if requested. 

Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 150

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Duncan Wilson Unit coordinator

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