UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


HPSC3030 Science and Global History

New module for 2011-12

Tutor: MacLehose, William (link)

Email: w.maclehose@ucl.ac.uk

course description

This course studies the history of medieval Islamic and western Christian science from a comparative perspective and focuses on the transfer of knowledge from the ancient Greek world to the Arabic and then to the Latin West from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries. Approaching the subject thematically, we will consider the following fields of scientific knowledge: geography, cosmology, astrology, technology, medicine and their connections with religion, broadly construed. In the process, we will examine the underlying political, social, cultural, institutional and intellectual structures of these societies as well as the intercultural interactions.


1x 3,000 word essay

1x 3 hour exam in Term 3 (60%)

Aims of the module

This module provides a comparative study of the cultural, social and intellectual aspects of Islamic and western science in the medieval period. The aim is to study intercultural interactions in general, as well as specifically in this case. The module allows students to the study the institutional and social conditions that led to the transfer of knowledge from the classical world to the Islamic world and, later, Western Europe through an overview of the main themes, figures and concepts of medieval science as they change in each of the cultures.

More generally, the module familiarises students with the key themes and methodologies of STS, related to the history of science and, more generally, the cultural and ideological production of knowledge.

Use of primary materials throughout the course will allow students to hone their ability to analyse the sources in a historical and comparative manner. The secondary materials will assist the students in their understanding of the different methodologies and ideologies historians have used to interpret the past.


By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • describe key regarding this formative period in the history of science across several cultures of global influence.
  • address the intercultural nature of premodern scientific inquiry
  • demonstrate an understanding of the transfer of knowledge between societies.
  • compare the different systems of knowledge and identify the main themes, concepts, figures and structures of scientific knowledge in the medieval Arabic and Christian worlds

In addition to specific course objectives, students will:

  • increase their ability to compare different cultures’ understandings of science, and to study the diachronic changes in a single culture over several centuries
  • increase familiarity with larger mechanisms of historical change
  • recognise the role that politics and religion play in the creation of a historiographic tradition and demonstrate skills dissecting contentious subjects

The research essay will provide students with the opportunity to gather, interpret and synthesize different materials. On a more mechanical level, students will be expected to use proper documentation, concise and clear prose, and logical argumentation when writing their essays.

Contact the course tutor for more information.