Science and technology have had a tremendous impact on the modern world. Conceptions of nature-physical, vital, human-change through time, transforming political, social, and spiritual life. Historians of science study these developments, and try to understand how, in different times and places, human beings have made sense of their world (and tried to mobilize what they learned).
From Copernicus to the atom bomb, from Archimedes to Freud, the history of science investigates dramatic changes in scientific ideas, and unfolds their complex implications.
Concentration & Coursework
How can I study the history of science at Princeton?
Princeton University has a distinguished tradition of excellence in the history of science. Several of the most important scholars in the field in the twentieth century called Princeton home.
Currently, courses in the history of science for undergraduates are offered in the history department, and they cover topics ranging from the scientific revolution to the history of biology in the twentieth century. These courses are open to anyone curious about science and society.
In addition, the department offers a concentration in the history of science. Concentrators have slightly different requirements from other students in the History major. The number of concentrators varies from year to year, but it is generally around a dozen students, quite a few of whom are also pre-med (the concentration is designed to take advantage of the pre-med requirements, reducing the overall course load for pre-meds who want to study history).
The history of science concentration combines many of the advantages of a small major (close work with faculty, a strong sense of community), with all the virtues of a large department (since students can draw on the resources of the whole history department as well). If you are interested in science and/or engineering, but also enjoy the humanities, history of science could be for you. For more information about the concentration, please contact the HOS Undergraduate Adviser.
If I am a history of science concentrator, what kind of job can I get?
Concentrators in the history of science do all kinds of things after graduation: in addition to medical school, law school, and business school, our students have gone on in banking, consulting, teaching, and politics. Because of the ever-increasing importance of science and technology in daily life, a concentration in the history of science can be a real advantage with many potential employers. It demonstrates an interest in, and some proficiency with, technical fields like computing, mathematics, and molecular biology along with concern for the broader social impact of innovation. This sort of training is good for doctors, but also for patent lawyers, designers, product developers, venture capitalists, and indeed anyone who needs to think about the future of science and technology.
History of Science Undergraduate Curriculum
History majors wishing to concentrate in the history of science are required to meet the thematic requirements (4 courses) and geographic requirement (2 courses, which can overlap with the thematic) among their ten to twelve courses. They must also take courses that satisfy the following requirements:
- Two courses in science, engineering, or mathematics in addition to those used to fill the University’s science distribution requirement.
- Four of the following courses (NOTE: bolded courses will be offered in Fall 2023):
- EGR 277 / HIS 277: Technology and Society (P, KB)
- HIS 290: The Scientific World View of Antiquity and the Middle Ages (P)
- HIS 291: The Scientific Revolution and European Order, 1500-1750 (P)
- HIS 292: Science in the Modern World (P, KB)
- HIS 293: Science in a Global Context: 15th to 20th Century (KB, PC)
- HIS 294: Science and Medicine in the Early Modern World (KB, PM)
- HIS 295: Making America: A Technological History of the United States (P, KB)
- HIS 297 / STC 297: Transformative Questions in Biology (KB)
- HIS 298: Information Revolutions
- ART 361/HIS 355: The Art & Archaeology of Plague (G)
- AAS 331/HIS 382: Beyond Tuskegee: Race and Human Subjects Research in US History (RD)
- HIS 390 - History of Science, Technology, and Medicine: Ideas and Methods (RD, PC)
- HIS 391: History of Contemporary Science (KB)
- HIS 392: History of Evolution (KB)
- HIS 393: Race, Drugs, and Drug Policy in America (KB, RD)
- HIS 394: History of Ecology and Environment (KB)
- HIS 395: History of Medicine and the Body (KB, RD)
- HIS 396: History of Biology (KB)
- HIS 397: Medicine and the Mind: A History of Psychiatry from the Asylum to Zoloft (KB, RD)
- HIS 398: The Einstein Era (KB)
- AMS 399 / HIS 399: In the Groove: Technology and Music in American History, from Edison to the iPod (KB)
- HIS 452: Magic, Matter, Medicine: Science in the Medieval World (KB, PM)
- GSS 426/HIS 458: History and the Body
- HIS 472: Medicine and Society in China: Past and Present (KB, RD, G)
- HIS 481: Science and Film (KB)
- HIS 489: The Scientific Self (KB, PC)
- HIS 491: Fertile Bodies: A Cultural History of Reproduction from Antiquity to the Enlightenment (PM)
- HIS 492: The Therapeutic Persuasion: Psychotherapy and American Life (KB)
- HIS 493: '1, 2, 3, Testing'... in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine (KB)
- HIS 494: Broken Brains, Shattered Minds (KB, RD)
- HIS 495: Alchemy - Art and Science (KB, PM)
- HIS 496: History of Neuroscience (KB, RD)
- HIS 497: Eating, Growing, Catching, Knowing: Historical Perspectives on Food, Science, and the Environment
- HIS 498: History of Pseudoscience (KB)
- HIS 499: Things
These specific courses can and almost certainly will also serve to at least partially meet the geographic and thematic requirements.
With the permission of the Director of Undergraduate Studies, one of these courses may be replaced by a cognate course from another department, for example, in philosophy or sociology of science.
- Four additional history courses.
- The independent work and senior departmental requirements are the same as for all other departmental majors.
Interested in History of Science?
Contact the HOS Undergraduate Adviser.
Photo credit: "L0034691" by Wellcome Library, London is licensed under CC BY 4.0. Image has been cropped.
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HOS Undergraduate Adviser
Michael D. Gordin
305 Dickinson Hall