History 60
Department of History
University of California, Irvine


I constructed this website to accompany an introductory survey course on the History of Science that I was privileged to teach at UCI from 1995 until my retirement in 2008.  I developed the website to serve as a reference and resource for my students.  Their insightful comments, questions, and suggestions helped shape its content and structure over the years. 

I hope the information and ideas you find on these pages will both satisfy and further stimulate the curiosity that led you here.

Instructor:    Dr. Barbara J. Becker
E-mail:   bjbecker@uci.edu

Chapel Hill, April 2010

Like all else in the realm of human endeavor, our understanding of how the world works is a mutable thing--a composite of aesthetic preference, cold analysis, and mythology modified by personal experience.  By examining the evolution of worldviews held by thinking individuals in the past, historians aim to shed new light on the role of scientific investigation in this intellectual process.  In this course, we will probe a sample of instructive episodes in the history of Western science to gain insight into how the methodological constraints, specialized language, interpretive restrictions, and stringent requirements of proof that define the work of the scientific community have shaped and reshaped our explanations for the "what," "how," and "why" of natural phenomena.
Week 1.  Likely Stories:  The "Way of Truth" vs. the "Way of Seeming"
  Reading:  Kuhn, chs. I and II; Week 1 Readings
The word "science" derives from the Latin word scire, which means "to know."  What do we know about the natural world?  How do we come to know it?  And, when--if ever--can we be confident that our "knowledge" of how the world works is something more than just another "likely story"?
  1.   Thoughtspace and Workspace
  2.   Greeks and Romans
Quodlibet 1:  By any other name...?
Week 2.  Transmission Trouble:  Preservation vs. Modification
  Reading:  Kuhn, chs. III and IV; Week 2 Readings
In the long run, it's not always what we know that really matters.  If our ideas are to have any lasting influence, we will need to find a reliable way to communicate them--without distortion--to others.  Therein lies the challenge.
  3.   Schools and Scholars
  4.   Preservation and Modification
Quodlibet 2:  Say what...?
Week 3.  Humanism:  Revolutionaries vs. Reactionaries
  Reading:  Galileo, Starry Messenger (in Drake); Kuhn, chs. V and VI; Week 3 Readings
Authoritative texts occasionally contradicted what was observed in nature.  How could the diligent scholar reconcile these differences and rescue ancient manuscripts from errors of interpretation and translation?
  5.   Babies and Bathwater
  6.   Spheres and Harmonies
Quodlibet 3:  Questionable authorities...?
Week 4.  Heavenly Reading:  The Book of Nature vs. the Book of Scripture
  Reading:  Galileo, Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, and The Assayer (in Drake);
  Kuhn, ch. VII; Week 4 Readings
A moving earth required a new physics.  A new physics required new instruments, new techniques, and new rules for putting them to the test.  Did it also need Galileo?
  7.   Seeing and Believing
  8.   Argument and Agreement
Quodlibet 4:  See what...?
Week 5.  Putting Nature on the Rack:  Private Science vs. Public Science
 Reading:  Kuhn, ch. VIII; Week 5 Readings
During the seventeenth century, there was a proliferation of scientific societies--communities of individuals, often working outside the traditional university context, who were attracted by the new experimental approach to natural philosophy.  They didn't want to hear or read about Nature.  Instead, they aimed to force it to give up its secrets by pulling it, jabbing it, and taking it apart.
  9.   Experience and Experiment
10.   Curiosities and the Curious
Week 6.  Universal Reason:  Aristotle vs. Newton
  Reading:  Kuhn, ch. IX; Week 6 Readings
Newton believed that Reason is immutable and universal, that all have the capacity to exercise it, and that all natural phenomena are legitimate subjects of reasoned investigation.  He introduced a new three-step method to guide his followers:  analyse, synthesize, then generalize.
11.   Mathematics and Motion
12.   Light and Enlightenment
Quodlibet 5:  You see what I'm saying...?
Week 7.  Natural Forces:  Attraction vs. Repulsion
 Reading:  Shelley, Frankenstein; Kuhn, ch. X; Week 7 Readings
When curious investigators put Newton's method to work, they encountered many new and interesting puzzles.  Natural forces like electricity and magnetism, for example, act even when bodies are not in direct contact.  What is the physical nature of such a power?  How can their effects be analysed, measured and quantified?
13.   Attraction and Repulsion
14.   Electricity and Magnetism
Quodlibet 6:  Virtual witnessing...
Week 8.  Living Machines:  Mechanism vs. Vitalism
  Reading:  Kuhn, ch. XI; Ruse, Prologue and chs. 1-3; Week 8 Readings
In the early nineteenth century, the prevailing metaphor for natural phenomena began to change from machine to organism.  What is it that distinguishes between living and non-living things?  What animates living things?  Where does this vital spirit reside? Has the earth developed in abrupt jumps and starts?  Or has it been a slow and gradual metamorphosis?  Are the forces of geological and biological change the same today as they were millennia ago?  What clues do we have?  What methods are legitimate to use in investigating these phenomena?
15.   Natural and Artificial
16.   Stones and Bones
Quodlibet 7.  Cities or clocks...?
Week 9.  Natural selection:  Adaptation vs. Extinction
 Reading:  Kuhn, ch. XII; Ruse, chs. 5 and 8-9; Week 9 Readings
Some historians of science have stated that Darwin triggered a scientific revolution when he published On the Origin of Species.  But Darwin was asking questions deemed appropriate for scientists to ask and answering them using methods that scientists of his day accepted as valid.  Even Thomas Kuhn would have to agree that he was a true "normal" scientist working on "normal" puzzles using "normal" methods.  And Darwin certainly was not the first to suggest that present day animals have evolved from earlier forms.  So what is the "revolution" here?
17.   Struggle and Survival
18.   The Fit and the Unfit
Quodlibet 8:  Revolting idea...?
Week 10.  New worldview:  New vs. Improved
 Reading:  Kuhn, ch. XIII and Postscript; Week 10 Readings
What are legitimate research questions for scientists on the cutting edge?  What are legitimate investigative techniques?  What role should scientists play in shaping and implementing public policy?
19.   Life and Death
20.   Matter and Mystery


Stillman Drake, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo

Thomas Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Michael Ruse, The Evolution Wars

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein