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History of Science & Technology at Smith College

History of Science & Technology

The history of science and technology links many disciplines and cultures: scientific, technological, humanistic and social. Smith’s program in the history of science and technology is designed to serve all Smith students. Courses in the program examine science and technology in their cultural and social contexts, and the ways in which scientific inquiries, achievements and debates have shaped and continue to shape human culture (and vice versa). The history of science and technology minor complements majors in the humanities, social sciences and the natural sciences.

The Program in the History of Science and Technology at Smith aims to cultivate in students a critical, historical understanding of science and technology and their interactions with each other. Students minoring in the program study science and technology in their social, cultural and intellectual milieus. They do so in an interdisciplinary setting, with faculty and approaches drawn from all of the major divisions of the college.

The study of the history of science and technology offers many rewards. Careful analysis and criticism of texts and objects is useful for all students. Students learn how science and technology have been major forces in the development of human societies and cultures. In addition, they learn how the theoretical and experimental practices of the sciences have been influenced by societies and cultures. Among other functions, exposure to the history of science and technology allows students to see that these endeavors have looked and operated differently in times past, that this history influences their development, and that they are linked to each other and the larger culture in different ways throughout history.

Students come to understand how science and technology progress even though scientists change their minds dramatically, compete quite vigorously and defend ideas in the face of overwhelming counterevidence.

Requirements & Courses

History of Science and Technology Minor


Six courses

  1. A basis course in the history of science and technology: a relevant FYS, HSC 207/ ENG 207 or a topic of PHI 211
  2. Two courses in the natural or mathematical sciences
  3. Three courses in the field of history of science and technology chosen in consultation with the student’s minor adviser. Normally one of the history of science and technology courses will be HSC 404, but another course may be substituted with the approval of the adviser.

Work at the Smithsonian Institution in the Picker Program counts as one course toward the minor.

Students considering a minor in the history of science and technology are urged to consult with their advisers as early as possible.


HSC 207/ ENG 207 The Technology of Reading and Writing (4 Credits)

Offered as ENG 207 and HSC 207. An introductory exploration of the physical forms that knowledge and communication have taken in the West, from ancient oral cultures to modern print-literate culture. The main interest is in discovering how what is said and thought in a culture reflects its available kinds of literacy and media of communication. Discussions to include poetry and memory in oral cultures; the invention of writing; the invention of prose; literature and science in a script culture; the coming of printing; changing concepts of publication, authorship and originality; movements toward standardization in language; and the fundamentally transformative effects of electronic communication. {L}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

HSC 404 Special Studies (4 Credits)

Fall, Spring, Annually

Crosslisted Courses 

AMS 245 Feminist & Indigenous Science (4 Credits)

In this course, we will consider such questions as: What do we know and how do we know it? What knowledges count as science? How is knowledge culturally situated? How has science been central to colonialism and capitalism and what would it mean to decolonize science(s)? Is feminist science possible? We will look at key sites and situations in media and popular culture, in science writing, in sociological accounts of science, in creation stories and traditional knowledges in which knowledge around the categories of race, gender, sex, sexuality, sovereignty, and dis/ability are produced, contested and made meaningful. {H}{S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

ANT 135/ ARC 135 Introduction to Archaeology (4 Credits)

Offered as ANT 135 and ARC 135. This course studies past cultures and societies through their material remains and explores how archaeologists use different field methods, analytical techniques and theoretical approaches to investigate, reconstruct and learn from the past. Data from settlement surveys, site excavations and artifact analysis are used to address economic, social, political and ideological questions across time and space. This course is taught from an anthropological perspective, exploring key transitions in human prehistory, including the origins of food production, social inequality and state-level societies across the globe. Relevance of archaeological practice in modern political, economic and social contexts is explored. First-years and sophomores only. Enrollment limited to 30. {N}{S}

Fall, Spring, Annually

ANT 224/ ENV 224 Anthropos in the Anthropocene: Human-Environment Relations in a Time of Ecological Crisis (4 Credits)

Offered as ANT 224 and ENV 224. Anthropology seeks to understand human life in all its complexity, but what constitutes the human is far from straightforward. This course examines the changing ways that Anthropos is being understood in an era of rapid global climate change and our planet’s sixth mass extinction event, both driven by human activities. We review perspectives on the relationship between humans and their environment from various cultural perspectives, considering how they engage notions of race, class, and gender, and what they imply for nature conservation. Topics include modernity, pets, cyborgs, kinship, symbiosis, extinction, species invasions, settler colonialism and the Anthropocene concept. Enrollment limited to 30. {S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

ANT 229 Africa and the Environment (4 Credits)

In Western discourses, African environments are defined by violence, famine and degradation. These characteristics are depicted as symptoms of an African resistance to Western values such as private property, democracy and environmentalism. This course encourages students to think critically about such portrayals by learning about specific environments in Africa and how humans have interacted with them across time. The syllabus is anchored in cultural anthropology, but includes units on human evolution, the origins and spread of pastoralism, the history of colonial conservation science and more. Discussions covered include gender, race, land grabbing, indigenous knowledge, the commons, the cattle complex, desertification, oil, dams and nationalism. {H}{N}{S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

ANT 248 Medical Anthropology (4 Credits)

This course looks at the cultural construction of illness through an examination of systems of diagnosis, classification and therapy in both non-Western and Western societies. Special attention is given to the role of the traditional healer, the anthropological contribution to international health care and the training of physicians in the United States. Not open to first years. Enrollment limited to 30. {N}{S}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

ENG 207/ HSC 207 The Technology of Reading and Writing (4 Credits)

Offered as ENG 207 and HSC 207. An introductory exploration of the physical forms that knowledge and communication have taken in the West, from ancient oral cultures to modern print-literate culture. The main interest is in discovering how what is said and thought in a culture reflects its available kinds of literacy and media of communication. Discussions to include poetry and memory in oral cultures; the invention of writing; the invention of prose; literature and science in a script culture; the coming of printing; changing concepts of publication, authorship and originality; movements toward standardization in language; and the fundamentally transformative effects of electronic communication. {L}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

HST 227mm Colloquium: Topics in Medieval European History-Magic in the Middle Ages (4 Credits)

The course uses magic as a case study for exploring cultural transmission in the Middle Ages. The course examines Germanic and Greco-Roman occult traditions, and the way in which the medieval synthesis of these cultures effects understandings of the occult. The course follows the influence of the Arabic and Hebrew influences on western occultism of the High Middle Ages, and flowering of the Renaissance magical tradition. The course challenges and reshapes some of our basic understandings about Medieval society. It problematizes modern division between science, magic and religion to illustrate how occult beliefs were part of wider religious experiences. Enrollment limited to 18. {H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

PHI 211pn Topics in Science and Society-Pandemics (4 Credits)

How do we represent pandemics? How do these representations implicate science, politics and society? The prevalent ‘contagion’ frame is a story about seeing the microbe as the enemy, erasing or downplaying human agency and practices (especially the expansion into new ecosystems), and affirming epidemiology and medical science as the only solution. The frame carries over into politics and culture and provides a way to translate the science of contagious disease into social terms that influence the public and also public policy. This frame and others are used to explore past and current pandemics.Enrollment limited to 40. {H}{S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

PHI 211sr Topics in Science and Society-The Scientific Revolution (4 Credits)

What was the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries? Did a revolution even occur? If it did, was it really revolutionary? If it occurred, what forces produced it? How did the boundaries of “science,” which was known as “natural philosophy,” change during this time period? Readings are drawn from primary and secondary sources. {H}{N}

Fall, Spring, Variable

PHI 224 Philosophy of Science (4 Credits)

Case studies in the history of science are used to examine philosophical issues as they arise in scientific practice. Topics include the relative importance of theories, models and experiments; realism; explanation; confirmation of theories and hypotheses; causes; and the role of values in science. {M}{N}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

PHI 238 Environmental Philosophy (4 Credits)

This course prepares students to understand and critically evaluate various ethical perspectives on human beings’ interactions with nature and these perspectives’ applications to environmental issues. The principal ethical perspectives studied are anthropocentrism, biocentric individualism, environmental holism and environmental pragmatism. We study representative descriptions and defenses of these perspectives and examine in particular whether they can validly and effectively help us resolve environmental problems. We study controversies about biodiversity, wilderness protection, global climate change and pollution. Enrollment limited to 40. {H}{S}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

Additional Course Information

UMass Amherst

HIST 117 Science & Society/Modern China
Sigrid Schmalzer

Science has meant many things in modern Chinese history. It has been pursued as a force for sovereignty, enlightenment, civilization, modernity, economic development, social transformation, political liberation, state authority, democracy, populism, individual opportunity, international solidarity, global power, and more. This course will explore how science has shaped modern Chinese history and the roles played by scientists in supporting and challenging the state. It will also examine how specific social, cultural, and political contexts have shaped the practice and policy of science in China, and how the specific visions for science that have emerged there have influenced and inspired people within the country and around the world. Throughout the course, we will be attuned to the effects of power relations on the history of science in China, including the Chinese state?s geopolitical maneuverings in the contexts of colonialism and the Cold War, revolutionary challenges to ivory-tower elitism, and scientists? struggles to find their voices within and against the state.

HIST 180 Western Science and Technology I
Hadi Jorati

Focus on the birth of Western science in the rational cosmology of the ancient Greeks, on its transmission to medieval Europe, and its eventual overturning in the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries.

There are no prerequisites, although some background in European history from antiquity to 1700 is a great help.

HIST 181 Western Science and Technology II
Shay Olmstead

Science in the modern world from the Enlightenment to the Cold War. Key scientific issues of the modern age, the social organization of science, the place of the scientific community in larger social and cultural context, and the expanding relationship between science and modern technology.

HIST 380 SciTechWar - 20th Century U.S./Europe
Emily Hamilton

This course will examine the nexus of science, technology, and war in the 20th century United States and Europe. This course will cover topics such as the development and use of chemical and biological warfare; scientific, political, medical, and philosophical implications of nuclear technology; the Manhattan Project and Big Science; Nazi science; Soviet agriculture; Cold War technology and the Space Race; missile technology; and psychological research and the military. As a unifying theme we will consider the impact of technological determinism and the centrality of science and technology in wartime politics and practice. Readings will consist of primary and secondary sources as well as historical and contemporary films. Requirements will include writing several short papers as well as a longer historiographical essay.

WGSS 286 History of Sexuality and Race in the U.S.
Tiarra Cooper

This course is an introduction to the interdisciplinary feminist study of sexuality. Its primary goal is to provide a forum for students to consider the history of sexuality and race in the U.S. both in terms of theoretical frameworks within women’s and gender studies, and in terms of a range of sites where those theoretical approaches become material, are negotiated, or are shifted. The course is a fully interdisciplinary innovation. It will emphasize the links rather than differences between theory and practice and between cultural, material, and historical approaches to the body, gender, and sexuality. Throughout the course we will consider contemporary sexual politics "from the science of sex and sexuality to marriage debates" in light of histories of racial and sexual formations.

Hampshire College

CS 0257 Psychological Revolutions
Ethan Ludwin-Peery

Science proceeds as a series of scientific revolutions, each revolution bringing new frameworks and new modes of understanding. Thomas Kuhn coined the term "paradigm shift" to describe these revolutions, with sciences passing from one paradigm, one way of understanding and organizing the world, to another. Kuhn also famously claimed that psychology has no paradigm, and I believe he was correct. Though it’s not for lack of trying—there have been many attempted revolutions, but none of them have been completely successful at providing a shared paradigm. Psychological science is still divided. In this course, we will begin by reading about the theory of scientific revolutions. Then, we’ll look back in time and examine successful paradigm shifts from the other sciences. Finally, we’ll look at several historical attempts to make a paradigm for psychological science, finishing out the course by looking at some paradigms that might hold promise for the future.

Students are encouraged to explore the minor through courses at the Five Colleges, during study abroad and in the Jean Picker Semester-in-Washington Program at the Smithsonian Institution.

Smith College Course Search

Smith’s online catalog includes courses, department data, information on majors and minors, honors programs, and cross-listed and interdepartmental courses. Find courses by number, department, keywords, term offered, number of credits and instructor.

Five College Course Guide

Smith, Amherst, Hampshire and Mount Holyoke colleges, along with the University of Massachusetts Amherst, offer joint courses as well as certificate programs in interdisciplinary fields. Courses are available at no extra cost to Smith students.


Douglas Lane Patey

English Language & Literature

Sophia Smith Professor of English Language & Literature

Doug Patey


History of Science Society

The History of Science Society is dedicated to understanding science, technology and medicine and their interactions with society in their historical context. It provides access to an international bibliography on the development and influence of science.

Society for the History of Technology (SHOT)

The international Society for the History of Technology is dedicated to the historical study of technology and its relations with politics, economics, labor, business, the environment, public policy, science and the arts.

University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection
The scientific instruments’ collection allows you to search the database under different discipline or by keyword. Each instrument is thoroughly explained in regard to its usage, materials, manufacturer and year made.

The Perseus Digital Library
Perseus is an evolving digital library developed by Tufts University. Besides a large database in classics, it also provides information on the humanities and hosts virtual exhibits, displays and interactive maps.

The Galileo Project
A source on the life and work of Galileo Galilei, hosted by Rice University.

Stone Tool Web Ring
A community of websites that explore the manufacturing techniques for stone tools by different cultures and groups.

The Neolithic Site of Çatalhöyük
This Neolithic site in Turkey, first discovered in the late 1950s, is famous for its large size and dense occupation, as well as its spectacular wall paintings and other arts uncovered inside the houses.

Virtual Museum of Ancient Inventions

The Virtual Museum of Ancient Inventions is a project that was begun by students in the course Ancient Inventions, which was offered at Smith from 1997 through 2004.

Explore the Virtual Museum
Bowl showing ancient Egyptian Eyeliner

Contact History of Science & Technology

Dewey Hall 202

Smith College

Northampton, MA

Phone: 413-585-3425 Email:

Administrative Assistant: Daryl Jett

Director: Jeffry Ramsey