About the Department
The Department of the History of Science is a lively interdisciplinary community of scholars and students who are interested in making historical sense of the natural sciences, broadly understood. Our faculty and students employ historical, textual, ethnographic, and social scientific methods to ask larger questions about how the various sciences work in practice, the basis of their authority, how ethical and political decisions are made about their regulation and applications, how they relate to larger intellectual, cultural, social, and political trends and changes, and much more. Faculty and student interests span medieval to contemporary times, and engage the full range of sciences: physics, astronomy, molecular biology, evolutionary theory, technology, brain and behavioral science, medicine, public health, and more.
Our undergraduate program offers students the opportunity to combine study of history and history of science and medicine (including medical ethics, health policy, and medical anthropology) with focused work in a selected area of science itself. Many students planning to go onto medical school or into science or health policy are attracted to this concentration, though we have seen our graduates pursue successful careers in everything from law to journalism to jazz music performance. Our graduate program aims to train students broadly and flexibly for today’s competitive academic market. All students gain expertise in a range of key approaches and areas in the field before specializing in a particular area or time period. In the course of their training, many graduate students study with faculty both from other Departments (e.g., History, Anthropology, and English) and other Schools (e.g., Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Business School, and Harvard Medical School).
One of the jewels of the Department is its first-ranked Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, a research and teaching center, that also maintains both permanent and temporary exhibitions open to the general public. Students have the opportunity to take classes that incorporate rare historical objects into the teaching process, and some may be able also to learn curatorial skills and mount original exhibitions in the course of their work with us. Harvard’s Widener Library -- the world's largest university library system – is available to all, as are the extraordinary holdings of rare books and manuscripts at the Houghton Library, the Countway Library of Medicine, the Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the science libraries, the History of Science Library, and the library in the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments.
The Department’s yearly colloquium series brings in some of the most exciting people working in the field today, and provides an opportunity for our whole community to come together, faculty and students, in lively discussion. The Department also sponsors multiple specialized working groups where papers are presented and research is discussed. We enjoy close ties with the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where our students enjoy full cross-registration privileges, and frequently attend colloquia and other events.