Loading...

STS101: Introduction to Science, Technology, and Society

Unit 4: History of Science and History of Technology   Unit 4 will introduce you to the history of science and the history of technology, broad fields that study past science and technology respectively. Fifty or more years ago, the history of science consisted mostly of scientists and philosophers who treated science as if it existed in a vacuum apart from social, cultural, economic, gender, personal, and other considerations. Science was seen as developing strictly on the basis of its own internal logic and momentum, often in a teleological manner, as it moved ever more closely toward the truth. Past science was often evaluated in terms of present or “correct” science and seen as its precursor, or as a series of mistakes that were finally overcome. Pseudoscience was dismissed, except to demonstrate the difference between it and legitimate science.

All of that has changed. Since the publication in 1961 of Thomas Kuhn’s path-breaking work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and the emboldened stance of SKK, the history of science began to incorporate methods and attitudes from history proper, examining scientific developments in connection with social, cultural, and even personal forces and values. Science is no longer imagined as a steady march toward truth. Rather, it is treated as a fully context-dependent enterprise. The boundary between legitimate science and pseudoscience, moreover, is seen as shifting and only visible in the past. Moreover, historians of science no longer view accepted science as an inevitable development.

Around the same time as the history of science began developing its contemporary approaches, the history of technology also became interested in the study of social and cultural factors as they impacted the field, while at the same time examining the impacts of technology on society and culture. In 1958, the Society for the History of Technologywas founded “to encourage the study of the development of technology and its relations with society and culture.”

Many historians of science and technology employ one or more STS methodology, such as sociology of science, SSK, ANT, feminist, Cultural Studies, or other approaches to explain the development and growth of past scientific knowledge and technology. If you would like to know how social and cultural factors help shape scientific and technological developments and decisions, then you will enjoy the history of science and the history technology. No special background in science and technology is absolutely required, although the fields surely include scientific and technological content. The workings of the history of science and technology are best understood by example. In this unit, we include discussions of the history of science and the history of technology by several practitioners, as well as case studies from these fields.

Unit 4 Time Advisory
This unit should take approximately 21 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 4.1: 12 hours

☐    Subunit 4.2: 8 hours

☐    Subunit 4.3 1 hour

Unit4 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to: - define the history of science and the history of technology; - define the goals of the study of the history of science and history of technology as they are approached today; - compare and contrast contemporary history of science with past history of science; - identify topics that the history of science examines; - identify topics that the history of technology examines; - identify the factors that the history of science and the history of technology examine; - identify the theoretical approaches used in history of science and history of technology studies; and - identify the major trends in the history of science and the history of technology.

4.1 The History of Science   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s “The History of Science: Past, Present and Future” The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

[Submit Materials](/contribute/)
  • Reading: Robert M. Young’s Darwin’s Metaphor: Nature’s Place in Victorian Culture: “Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 5” Link: Robert M. Young’s Darwin’s Metaphor: Nature’s Place in Victorian Culture: “Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 5” (HTML)

    Instructions: Click on the link above. Read the introduction on the main page, and then read chapters 1 and 5. This book is a classic in the history of science, one of the most important for placing Darwin in his social, cultural, political, and scientific contexts. This book is dense in parts and should be read with access to an online encyclopedia in order to look up the many references that it makes. This work is important for us not so much for the actual history that it traces (though this is important in itself) but for the kind of historiography (or method for writing history) that it illustrates. This is a historiography that considers science as fully a part of its social and historical moment.

    Reading these chapters should take approximately 6 hours.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s “Reading Summary Essay” The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

    Submit Materials

  • Reading: The Victorian Web: Michael Rectenwald’s “Darwin’s Ancestors: The Evolution of Evolution” Link: The Victorian Web: Michael Rectenwald’s “Darwin’s Ancestors: The Evolution of Evolution” (HTML)

    Instructions: Please click on the link above and read this essay, which serves as an example of contemporary history of science. It discusses evolutionary theory prior to Charles Darwin. This treatment of earlier, otherwise overlooked or ignored precursors represents a trend in recent historiography in the history of science. Those types of works tend to neglect figures in the history of science who were later superseded by “correct” scientific ideas and thinkers. In fact, aspects of earlier, discarded theories are often restored by later thinkers. This kind of historiography differs from an earlier, “Whiggish” history, which viewed past science as inevitably pointing to and resulting in present science. Contemporary historians of science no longer view accepted science as an inevitable development.

    Reading this article should take approximately 2 hours.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

4.2 The History of Technology   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s “The History of Technology” The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

[Submit Materials](/contribute/)
  • Reading: London School of Economics and Political Science Online: Donald MacKenzie’s and Judy Wajcman’s “The Social Shaping of Technology” Link: London School of Economics and Political Science Online: Donald MacKenzie’s and Judy Wajcman’s “The Social Shaping of Technology” (PDF)

    Instructions: Please click on the link above and then download the PDF of this article. Read the introduction on pages 1-47, which discusses the social forces at work in the making of technology and suggests the differences this approach has with technological determinism.

    Reading this article should take approximately 4 hours.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Reading: New York University: Mary Flanagan, Daniel C. Howe, and Helen Niessenbaum’s “Embodying Values in Technology: Theory and Practice” Link: New York University: Mary Flanagan, Daniel C. Howe, and Helen Niessenbaum’s “Embodying Values in Technology: Theory and Practice” (PDF)

    Instructions: Please click on the link above, and then click on “Embodying Values in Technology: Theory and Practice” under “Selected Articles” on the right side of the page. This article diverges from the largely descriptive studies of how technologies already embed values to a normative and pragmatic mode in which values are purposively embedded in technology by designers.

    Reading this article should take approximately 3 hours.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

4.3 Key Terms   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s “Key Terms Worksheet” The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

[Submit Materials](/contribute/)