HOS Undergraduate Courses

The doctor is feeling the pulse of a woman patient. Her wrist is supported on a small red bolster. The doctor touches the pulse only with his finger-tips, without looking at the womanEach semester, we offer a range of courses that explore the history of science, medicine, and technology from multiple angles.


Photo credit: "L0004700" by Wellcome Library, London is licensed under CC BY 4.0. Image has been cropped.

Fall 2019 Courses

AMS 399 / HIS 399: In the Groove: Technology and Music in American History, From Edison to the iPod

When Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, no one, including Edison, knew what to do with the device. Over the next century Americans would engage in an ongoing dialogue with this talking machine, defining and redefining its purpose. This course will track that trajectory, from business tool to scientific instrument to music recorder to musical instrument. By listening to the history of the phonograph, and by examining the desires and experiences of phonograph users, students will perceive more generally the complex relationships that exist between a technology and the people who produce, consume, and transform it. View more course details.

Instructor: Emily Thompson
M W 10:00am - 10:50am

HIS 293: Science in a Global Context: 15th to 20th Century

Science and technology have literally changed the world. This course examines how, with an emphasis on understanding the place of scientific knowledge in the history of European exploration and expanding global power. How did the sciences go out into the world? How did certain disciplines and practices take shape in global interactions since 1400? How does knowledge become universal? What instruments, institutions, and activities made this possible? View more course details.

Instructor: D. Graham Burnett
M W 11:00am - 12:20pm

HIS 395: History of Medicine and the Body

What does it mean to fall ill? Does a medical treatment work always and everywhere in the same way? How has medicine responded to and shaped ideas of difference–gender, race, age, ability? How have changing ideas of health affected everyday life? This course, by taking a temporally and geographically expansive approach to the body and medicine, will challenge your assumptions about and perhaps even your experience of your body in fundamental terms. We will explore ideas of health and disease in the pre-modern world, and then closely examine the processes by which medicine became “modern”: the rise of anatomy and dissection, the fight against germs, the development of medical technology, and modern practices of health, life, and death. View more course details.

Instructor: Katja Guenther
Tu Th 10:00am - 10:50am

HIS 452 / MED 452: Magic, Matter, Medicine: Science in the Medieval World

This course explores the medieval understanding of nature, the heavens, bodies, and minds. In medieval Islam and the Latin West, science was shaped by debates over important questions - the extent of divine and human power, the existence of other worlds, the generation of life, the legitimacy of magic and astrology. We will ask how medieval people sought to put this knowledge into practice, from healing sickness and prolonging life, to making automata, transmuting metals, or predicting the future. The course draws on a wide range of sources, including books, images, material objects, and our own attempts to reconstruct experiments in class. View more course details.

Instructor: Jennifer Rampling
Tu 1:30pm - 4:20pm

STC 297 / HIS 297 / MOL 297 / HUM 297: Transformative Questions in Biology

The course will teach core principles of the life sciences through a set of key questions that biologists have sought to answer over the past 200 years. We will read historic scientific publications, discussing the basic biology at stake as well as what enabled each scientist to see something new. In addition, we will schedule several hands-on sessions with relevant materials. By situating key findings in their place and time we show how science is an inquiry-based, concrete, and ongoing activity, rather than codified and unchanging knowledge. Topics include cell theory, evolution, experimental embryology, genetics, and molecular development. View more course details.

Instructors: Angela N. H. Creager, Paul A. Durst
Tu Th 1:30pm - 2:50pm
Distribution area: STN

NEW! HIS 488: Law, Social Difference, and the Sustenance of Health

Are we personally responsible for our well-being? Do law and society make a difference? How do we see one another and how does that affect the moral, legal, and material obligations that undergird healthcare? In this course, we will preliminarily define law and social difference while considering what (un)conventional policies sustain good health and contribute to poor outcomes. Through a thematic approach focused on legal cases, we will ask about a number of social differences in U.S. history. Gender. Citizenship. Reform. Geography. Housing. Government. Risk. Institutions. Economics. Class. Insurance. Markets. Epidemics. Racism. (Dis)ability. This seminar asks you to co-lead a session. Our living syllabus is modifiable to include any other axes of social difference that you are curious to research. Let’s make sense of how people have created laws, brought challenges into the courtroom, and led movements that influence the formation of social differences and the practice of sustaining health. View more course details.

Instructor: George Aumoithe
Th 1:30pm - 4:20pm