MSc Science and Health Communication

Year of entry: 2022

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Course unit details:
Introduction to Contemporary Science and Medicine

Unit code HSTM60011
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (L5)
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course will help students understand the contexts in which contemporary science, technology and medicine (STM) have developed over time.  Through the lectures and readings, this course will explore hte history of STM, is socio-cultural and political context, and its relationship to publics, users and patients.  By illuminating the historical processes involved, the course will provide students with a set of tools to understand the particular position of STM in the contemporary world.  We emphasise particularly the definition of public science, and engagement between "expert" and "non-expert" groups, in a variety of historical periods.

As this is a team-taught course drawing on staff research interests, the exact content will vary.  However, it will typically include the following:

  • Public science in the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries
  • The rise of laboratory medicine
  • Science and religion
  • Environmental history
  • Science and the Cold War
  • Eugenics, reproduction and state power
  • Biomedicine and clinical trials
  • Information science and management
  • Cloning and biotechnology controversy
  • Political ideology, planning and visions of the future



The unit aims to:

  • introduce key themes for understanding the development and instituions of science, technology and medicine (STM) from the late nineteenth to teh early twenty-first century.
  • provide and integrated survey of theoretical and historiographic approaches to understanding modern STM
  • introduce student to the chronology and periodization of the history of contemporary STM
  • use case studies to exemplify the interdisciplinary nature of the filed
  • place the study of contemporary science communication in historicla context
  • stimulate studnets to dveleop criticla and informed judgments on the development of modern scientifict and medicla knowledge

Teaching and learning methods

Lecture-based format including some group discussion and occassional short video presentations.  Required and recommended readings are assigned for all lectures.  Readings and other support materials are delivered via Blackboard, which is also used for essay upload.  Students are encouraged to raise questions about the course in class or via email, and the group email list is sometimes used to continue general discussion on course themes.

Knowledge and understanding

  • describe and analyse the contemporary history of science, technology and medicine
  • understand and compare different historiographic approaches via specific case studies

Intellectual skills

  • construct adn defend an argument according to the norms of scholarly historic research
  • conduce independent research on secondary (and in some cases primary) historical sources
  • clearly present an argument in essay form using appropriate source documentation

Practical skills

  • read for research, including skim-reading, source prioritisation and following up references
  • critically and comparativelky appraise source texts

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • This unit provides experience in humanities-style academic writing, with feedback tailored to students who may have limited experience in this area
  • This unit helps students develop analytical skills

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 15%
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%
Set exercise 35%

Feedback methods

Staff are available to discuss essay proposals and general course performance by appointment, on a one-to-one basis.  Essay scritps are returned to the students with marker's comments.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 12
Independent study hours
Independent study 138

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Elizabeth Toon Unit coordinator
Harriet Palfreyman Unit coordinator

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