Academic Programs

Undergraduate Program - Concentration Requirements

History and Science Concentration Requirements for the Class of 2011 and Beyond

History of Science Track

Non-honors: 11 half-courses
Honors: 13 half-courses

Required Courses:

  • History of Science 100, Knowing the World: Introduction to the History of
    Science. Six half-courses in the history of science, medicine and technology. 
  • Two additional half-courses, normally outside the department, designed to allow students to connect special interests in the history of science to relevant course work offered in other Departments; examples include certain courses in history, film studies, literature, sociology, religion, medical anthropology, philosophy of science, and bioethics.
  • History of Science 97, Tutorial, Sophomore Year
  • History of Science 98, Tutorial, Junior Year
  • History of Science 99, Tutorial, Senior Year (if honors option is chosen)

Science and Society Track

Non-honors: 11-half courses
Honors: 13 half-courses 

Required Courses:

History of Science 100, Knowing the World: Introduction to the History of Science.

Four additional courses in the history of science, medicine and technology. Normally, at least three of the four courses must be taught by members of the Department of the History of Science.  Historically oriented courses in other fields may be counted towards this requirement (with the approval of the Director of Undergraduate Studies).  See the note about History of Science and Allied Fields Area below. 

Four science courses in one coherent field, though not necessarily in one department. NOTE: Courses may be drawn from any of the physical and life sciences.  Please see the Guide to the Science Area for more specific information about choosing a science area.

History of Science 97, Tutorial, Sophomore Year History of Science 98, Tutorial, Junior Year. History of Science 99, Tutorial, Senior Year (if honors option is chosen)

Note: Course requirements for the History of Science and Allied Fields Area for the Science and Society Track may be split between history of science and such other historical fields as social history, intellectual history, economic history, and political history.  Students are expected to take at least three of these courses within the Department of the History of Science, or with members of the department faculty (e.g. a Core course taught by a faculty member from the Department of the History of Science, such as Historical Study B-45: The Darwinian Revolution, will count as a History of Science course).  Students may count one cross-listed course that is taught by a non-department faculty member (e.g. Sociology 190, Life and Death in the U.S.: Medicine and Disease in Social Context) as a History of Science course. 

Two of the five courses may be taken outside the department in a historical, or allied, field.  Any course in the History department may count as an allied field course.  Any courses in the Program in Science, Technology and Society at M.I.T may also count as an allied field course, but these courses may not substitute for any concentration tutorial courses or for History of Science 100.  Students may also be able to receive concentration credit for historically oriented courses from other departments and schools at Harvard, but students must petition to obtain approval for such a course by submitting a syllabus to the Director of Undergraduate Studies or Manager of Student Programs. 

Science and Society Track: Medicine and Society Focus

Honors-eligible: 14 half-courses 

The Medicine and Society Focus in the Science and Society track is designed for students considering a career in medicine, health sciences, health policy, or who otherwise have a pronounced interest in the medical sciences. It allows students to combine course work in many of the scientific subjects required for medical school admission with a coherent program of courses that study health and medicine from a range of historical, social scientific, and humanistic perspectives.  Please see the Guide to the Medicine and Society Focus for more details. 

Required Courses:

Science and Society Track: Mind, Brain, and Behavior Focus 

Honors-eligible: 14 half-courses 

Students interested in integrating serious study of the sciences of mind, brain, and behavior with attention to sociocultural, philosophical and historical questions raised by those sciences may pursue a Mind, Brain, and Behavior Focus in History and Science, developed in collaboration with the Standing Committee on Neuroscience and the University-wide Mind, Brain, and Behavior Interfaculty Initiative.  Please see the Guide to the Mind, Brain, Behavior Focus for more details. 

Required Courses:

Students pursuing the Mind, Brain, and Behavior track are also expected to participate in the University-wide Mind, Brain, and Behavior research milieu, including a non-credit senior year seminar for Mind, Brain, and Behavior thesis writers.

History of Science 100 - Knowing the World: An Introduction to the History of Science

Every concentrator will take History of Science 100, which is offered during the fall semester.  Students are encouraged to enroll in the course during their freshmen or sophomore year. 

Course description: What are the origins of modern science and of the scientific method? Have the ways of knowing the world of different cultures and societies changed over time? How has scientific knowledge been related to other enterprises such as art, religion, literature, and commerce? We will ask these questions and more through a broad survey of many of the crucial moments in the development of science from the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century to the present day. Topics and figures will include Galileo, evolution, eugenics, the atomic bomb, and the human genome project.
Note: This course, when taken for a letter grade, meets the General Education requirement for Culture and Belief. This course fulfills the requirement that one of the eight General Education courses also engage substantially with Study of the Past.

History of Science 97 - Sophomore Tutorial

The sophomore tutorial is a hands-on course that introduces students to some of the most exciting and productive questions in the history of science, technology and medicine, while developing critical reading, presentation and discussion skills. Small groups of students will tackle different aspects of a larger theme each week and share discoveries in sessions led by the faculty instructor. The course will be further enhanced by a series of supervised individual projects.

History of Science 98 - Junior Research Seminar

During the junior year, students spend one term, normally the fall semester, in History of Science 98, the junior research seminar, which is designed to help students come to a better understanding of the craft of historical research and writing.  Students meet in small groups of eight to ten.  For many students, the research seminar is their first opportunity to work closely with an adviser on a topic of their own choosing.  This can be an intellectually exhilarating experience, especially when the student develops a focused project and bibliographic strategy early and works diligently throughout the term.  Over the course of the semester, students identify a research topic, create a proposal, and research and write a 25-page paper.  Students who wish to write a senior thesis must meet certain standards by the end of the research seminar, and will be recommended for admission to History of Science 99, the senior tutorial.

History of Science 99 - Senior Thesis

The senior tutorial is devoted entirely to writing a senior thesis.  In this project students draw together the different elements of their undergraduate education.  The wisdom and the knowledge they have acquired in the previous three years form the basis for taking a closer and more sustained look at some aspect of science in history.  Producing a good thesis is a deeply satisfying accomplishment but requires a good deal of thought, organization, and commitment.

Most students have some idea of what their general topic will be by the spring of their junior year.  From then on, students and advisers work closely to shape ideas into arguments and questions and to formulate a strategy and work schedule.  The intensity of this guided individual research is balanced by a variety of structures and inducements to collegiality.  Students registered for History of Science 99 participate in a faculty-led seminar that meets irregularly throughout the year to concentrate on the content and the form of the emerging thesis projects; students are also assigned an individual thesis adviser, who may be either a faculty member or an advanced graduate student.  Senior thesis writers are also encouraged to consult other tutors and faculty within and outside the Department.  A complete draft of one chapter must be completed and submitted to both the individual adviser and the seminar leader around mid-December; the finished thesis (25,000 words maximum) is due by early-March.

Students who choose to write a senior thesis are free to pursue a diverse range of topics.  Some examples of theses recently written by students in the concentration include: “On Lawrence Summers, Women, and Science: Changing Debates About the Biology of Sex Differences at Harvard Since 1969,” “Slightly Salivating, Over Your Fever: Mercury in Therapeutic Medicine During the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries,” “Not Gonna Crack? The Unlikely Story of How Lithium Broke into Modern Psychiatry,” “From Whaling to Whale Watching: Human Interaction With Whales in Coastal Massachusetts, 1820-1992,” “Population as Discourse: Medicine in Late Colonial Kenya,” “Whose Voice? Whose History? Human Representation in Edward Palmer's Ethnobotanical Collections, 1869-1896 “A Panel of Judges: The Response of the American Medical Profession to Koch's Discovery of the Tubercle Bacillus,” and “Wild Goose Chase: The Communal Science of Waterfowl Migration Study in North America, 1880-1940.”

Many of our theses go on to win College awards, and some have been published. Students are welcome to look through the collection of past and present senior theses, available in the Department of the History of Science, and also from the Harvard University Archives.



Undergraduate Program