Description of Course Goals and Curriculum
History 292 – Science in the Modern World – is a history class that focuses on science from 1700 (from the death of Newton) to 1970 (to approximately when modern science was established). There are several broad themes in the class which one starts to notice midway into the class – the class focuses on the social, intellectual, cultural and epistemological faculties of science. In the class, we learn this by looking at the historical roots of science, the change in places in which science was done, the subtle differences between the way several nations (especially Germany, United States, France, Scotland and England) “do” science, different trajectories that the physical and life sciences have taken, and the idea of “modernity and backwardness” when it comes to science. It might be difficult to see these patterns right away, and sometimes even midway into the class. However, going back to the description that Professor Gordin provides at the start of the syllabus helps to see the overall arc of the class, which becomes useful later during the semester.
Organization of the week: The class assigns approximately 200 pages of reading per week. Every lecture is accompanied by a reading or two. These articles/books/papers are usually primary sources, written by the scientists that the course discusses. Every week, during the precept, one of the readings of the week is discussed.
Assignments/Assessments: Two papers are to be submitted, the topics of which are posted at the beginning of the semester. There is a final exam which consists of term identification questions, quote identification questions, a short essay and a long essay.
Learning From Classroom Instruction
Professor Gordin lectures using slides on the projector. Taking notes is very crucial to excelling in the course, because there is no specific textbook that guides one through the course. Hence, it’s important not to miss lectures, which detail how the contents are connected to each other. Professor Gordin usually posts the lecture slides on Blackboard the night before the lecture; printing out the lecture notes and taking them to class, then taking notes on those lecture notes is very helpful, especially because Professor Gordin is a fast talker.
Doing the readings before the lecture helps understand the lecture better, although isn’t entirely necessary. Although it is expected of all students to do all the readings, many students only do the readings that are discussed in the precepts. If you can’t commit to reading every word of the readings, make sure you skim the reading and make a gist of what the author’s primary argument is.
Learning For and From Assignments
Preparing for the Final Exam (40% of the grade): Long Essay Question (40% of the final exam): The long essay questions focus on the broad themes of the class. To prepare for the exam, it’s very important to review the contents of the class in a way that makes sure that you know all the themes in the class. To do this, make sure you know and at least three examples, one from each century (the 18th, 19th and 20th) and among these one from the physical sciences and another from the life sciences, that pertains to that theme. This will help greatly in writing the long essay, which is weighted 40% of the final exam. Another fact to use to advantage is that there are a limited number of themes running through the course, so looking over the long essay prompts from the past finals that Professor Gordin posts online ensures that you have thought about most of the themes. During preparation, it is very useful to take those prompts and think about how you would answer that question, writing down in bullet form the main argument, the three examples and the main points you would write in that essay. Doing this ensures that the theme you encounter in the long essay question is something you have already prepared examples for.
Short Essay Question (25% of the final exam): The short essay questions are focused on testing one’s knowledge about a certain event, one’s evaluation of a certain historical claim, comparison of two ideologies, et cetera. To answer these questions, one has to know the details of particular cases. “Cases” can include events (The Manhattan Project), ideologies (Positivism, Romanticism), people (Darwin, Einstein), eras (The Chemical Revolution), and anything in between. To know everything in the class before the day of the final may seem overwhelming, but the key is, again, to study two cases each (roughly from the physical and life sciences categories) from three centuries (18th, 19th and 20th). It’s essentially the same as preparing for the long essay questions.
Quote Identification Questions (20% of the final exam): These questions are quotes taken from the readings. Once you know the gist of each reading, it’s quite easy to answer these questions even if you haven’t done the readings word-to-word, because the quotes selected capture lines that present key ideas or concepts in the book. Practicing the quote identifications from all the past papers given is incredibly useful.
Term Identification Questions (15% of the final exam): Professor Gordin puts most of the key terms he mentions in a lecture in the lecture notes, so those are a great place to start when it comes to reviewing terms.
Assignments (40% of the grade in total): There are only two papers to be submitted, both in almost the first half of the semester. In the syllabus of the course, Professor Gordin outlines clearly how the papers are expected to be written, and it very useful to pay attention to his pointers. After your preceptor has graded your paper, it’s useful to pay attention to their criticism so that you don’t make the same moves while writing the essays in the final exam. It is incredibly useful to write these papers in advance and send a draft to your preceptor, who can then suggest tweaks to your essay. Not all courses have preceptors do this, so taking advantage of this is helpful.
Although not as reliable in information as the primary sources themselves, Wikipedia is an amazing source of information when you have no clue where to start from. Before every reading, doing a quick wiki search on the article/author/book/paper makes sure that you know sufficient background to understand what the authors are referring to in their primary sources.