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MSc History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Decolonizing History of Science

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
Offered by Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (L5)
Available as a free choice unit? No


Decolonization has emerged as an important theme in contemporary intellectual and political debates. The discussions have focussed on how the colonial past that remains hidden within European intellectual traditions and institutions needs to be acknowledged. Such discussions have been important in history of science as well. The focus here has been on the need to deconstruct science as a Western/European discipline and to acknowledge the non-western and non-European contributions to it. 


To introduce students to debates on whether science is predominantly a European discipline. 
Introduce the global history of science and its historiographical debates.
Explore the links between imperialism and the global expansion of European science.
Debate the various alternative frames that have been suggested to explain the global heritage of science.  
Highlight the limits of writing Global histories of science in decolonizing the history of science.
Explore how science can be truly decolonized. 

Teaching and learning methods

The unit will be taught in six two-hour seminar sessions, where we will discuss a range of required readings (primary and secondary). While students are asked to read all required readings for the week, they will be expected to assign themselves a reading which they introduce and discuss to the group as a whole, analysing the author’s argument and placing it in context. All readings will be made available through Blackboard, and a week before each seminar the unit lead will also upload a number of questions to Blackboard that are designed to focus the students’ reading and act as prompts for the seminar discussion. The unit lead will start each seminar by giving a short (5-10 minute) background introduction, and discussion will then centre on the key readings and questions. Seminar performance is not marked, but each student will be expected to contribute equally. 

Knowledge and understanding

Describe and analyse the challenges in writing the global history of science and its relationship with contemporary political, economic and environmental challenges. 

Intellectual skills

  • Critically examine the intellectual roots of modern science
  • Understand the nature of the debates in the history of global/colonial/ and non-Western science
  • Construct and defend an argument according to the norms of scholarly historical research

Practical skills

  • Contribute to group discussion
  • Read, summarise and critically examine source texts, and present findings orally in a group setting
  • Conduct independent research on primary and secondary historical sources
  • Clearly present an argument in essay form using appropriate source documentation

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Critically and comparatively appraise source texts
  • Give an oral presentation examining a source text, and respond to questions or comments from others
  • Contribute to group discussion
  • Engage scientific, technical and lay audiences in discussions about the intentions behind, and consequences of, technological change

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

Detailed written feedback from primary assessor. 

Recommended reading

1. Eve Vincent and Timothy Neale, ed., Unstable relations: Indigenous people and environmentalism in contemporary Australia (Crawley, WA: UWA Publishing, 2016).
2. Bonneuil, Christophe, ‘Development as Experiment: Science and State Building in Late Colonial and Postcolonial Africa, 1930-1970’, Osiris, Vol. 15, (2000), pp. 258-281
3. Chakrabarti, Pratik, Western Science in Modern India; Metropolitan Methods, Colonial Practices, 2004.
4. Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. London: Tavistock Publications, 1970, chapter 5.
5. Fan, Fa-ti "The global turn in the history of science." East Asian Science, Technology and Society 6, no. 2 (2012): 249-258
6. Montgomery, Scott L. Science in Translation: Movements of Knowledge through Cultures and Time. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
7. Nandy, Ashis, Science, Hegemony and Violence: A Requiem for Modernity. Tokyo, Japan: New York: United Nations University, 1988.
8. Finlay, R, ‘China, the West, and World History in Joseph Needham's Science and Civilization in China’, Journal of World History, 2000
9. Raj, Kapil, Relocating Modern Science: Circulation and the Construction of Scientific Knowledge in South Asia and Europe, 17th-19th Centuries (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2006)
10. Rodrigo Arocena and Peter Senker, ‘Technology, Inequality, and Underdevelopment: The Case of Latin America, Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 28, (2003), pp. 15-33 
11. Scott, James C. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1998.
12. Elshakry, Marwa. “When Science Became Western: Historiographical Reflections.” Isis 101.1 (2010): 98–109
13. George Sarton, The History of Science and the New Humanism (New York: Holt, 1931)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 12
Independent study hours
Independent study 138

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Pratik Chakrabarti Unit coordinator

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