BSc Biology / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
A History of Biology in 20 Objects

Unit code BIOL10381
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Biological Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? No

Overview

This course aims to provide you with a broad perspective on how today’s life sciences have grown out of past investigations of living nature and the nature of life. By focusing on "objects": topics of inquiry and tools used to carry out these inquiries we will bring biology’s past to life, as something that helps us understand our present. Looking at these objects can tell us a great deal about how biology works, how it has changed, and even how it may develop in the 21st century. You will gain insight to the motivations that inspired scholars in the past to study living things and the circumstances in which such research was pursued.
 

Aims

1.     To gain a broad perspective on how today’s life sciences have grown out of past investigations of living nature and the nature of life.

2.     To bring biology’s past to life as something that helps us understand our present by focusing on ’objects’: topics of inquiry and tools used to carry out these inquiries.

3.     To understand how biology works, how it has changed, and how it may develop in the 21st century.

4.     To gain insight into the motivations that inspired scholars in the past to study living things and the circumstances in which such research was pursued.

Learning outcomes

 We will address the following central questions:

1.What did it mean to investigate living nature, to develop a science of life at various points in history?

2.Who was interested in this?

3.How was it done, in different historical, national, social or institutional settings?

4.Why did biology develop in the way it did?

The course will look and feel different from history courses that students may remember from school. We are not particularly interested in the deeds of great men and women and their dates of birth or death. Lectures will be organised around "objects": topics of inquiry, key organisms or research tools.
 

Syllabus

There will be 20 lectures on the history of selected objects.

Objects include:

The human body (as studied by anatomists since antiquity)

Sex (and reproduction)

Plants (collected and classified by botanists)

Skeletons and Embryos (exhibited in museums)

The Field (and voyages of discovery)

The Cell (one of the unifying concepts in modern biology)

The Kymograph (an important device used by experimental physiologists)

The Pigeon (and other animals studied by Darwin)

The Gene (another unifying concept)

Behaviour (Pavlov, Skinner and others)

Populations (and the role of statistics in biology)

Standardised laboratory animals

The ultracentrifuge (and the birth of molecular biology)

Information (and the structure of DNA)

Employability skills

Group/team working
A group project forms an integral part of the unit. Students work in groups of three or four creating a resource on the history of a concept or object of choice
Innovation/creativity
The group project invites students to create various forms of resource, including web based time lines, or audio or video clips.
Leadership
Leadership skills help with the group project.
Project management
Project management is needed for the group project.
Oral communication
Teaching includes a weekly seminar where students are invited to discuss topics addressed in the lectures.
Research
The group project relies on independent research.
Written communication
Students write a project proposal for the group work component of the unit. There are also discussion boards inviting students to share opinions on pieces of reading, broadcasts and other materials.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 75%
Project output (not diss/n) 25%

Group project on the history of an object, tool, concept or key organism (peer reviewed) - 25%

2hour examination: two essay-style questions - 75%
 

Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided as follows:

•       Students have the opportunity to work on their group projects in a series of workshop meetings with the lecturer. They submit project proposals, on which they receive feedback.

•       • Students are invited to submit and receive feedback on a practice essay to prepare for the essay question in the exam. (This is optional, not compulsory)

Recommended reading

•       Allen, Garland E., Life Science in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge University Press, 1975).

•       Bowler, Peter J. and Iwan Rhys Morus, Making Modern Science: A Historical Survey (University of Chicago Press, 2005).

•       Cobb, Matthew, The Egg & Sperm Race: The Seventeenth-Century Scientists who unlocked the Secrets of Sex and Growth (The Free Press, 2006).

•       Coleman, William, Biology in the Nineteenth Century: Problems of Form, Function and Transformation (Wiley 1971).

•       Mayr, Ernst, This is Biology: The Science of the Living World (Belknap Press, 1997).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 20
Tutorials 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 67

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Carsten Timmermann Unit coordinator

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