About This Course

Course Description

History 1805e is an exciting introductory-level course about the global history of science and technology, and about the role science and technology have always played in history. It is intended for students planning to major in science or engineering, and also for history concentrators and other students in the social sciences or humanities. In other words, all are welcome. The course includes no technical math or science and we do not assume that students will have any particular historical background or technical expertise.

This course introduces students to “big history,” which uses the tools of scientists, social scientists, and historians to unite traditional history with the deep past of our species and our planet. We begin with the Big Bang and go all the way to the future. We examine the past at different scales, from microscopic bacteria to human beings to thousand-year empires. We ask how the history of science and the world look different when viewed from India or China or Africa, from Renaissance Europe or ancient Greece. We consider alternate histories–what if things had happened differently?–and alternatives to the modern university and its disciplines. We talk about ways to end all life on earth and consider how science and history might help save the planet. Above all, we argue against the separation of history and science, discovering how science and technology have always been shaped by human history and vice versa.

And we do all that in one lecture a week!


Bill Turkel (First Term)
Office: Lawson Hall 2267
Office Hours: Wednesdays after class

Rob MacDougall (Second Term)
Office: Lawson Hall 2237
Office Hours: Tuesdays 1-3 pm.


Students are expected to attend every lecture and to participate in class discussions and activities. Because there is no required textbook in this course, attendance and engagement are critical.

Students will write a number of short “history labs” (two per term, each worth 10%) on a variety of questions and topics. There will be a December exam and an April exam, each worth 30%. Both exams will include a mix of identifications and short essay questions based on the lectures and course readings. The December exam will cover the first half of the course; the April exam will cover both halves of the course but be heavily weighted to the second term.

Learning Outcomes

Students who pass this course will be able to:

  • See “natural history and human history [as united] in a single, grand, and intelligible narrative.” (Christian, Maps of Time)
  • Describe the basic history of the Universe as it is understood in the historical sciences, from the Big Bang to the present.  This narrative covers the inanimate universe, the origin of stars and galaxies, the formation of our solar system, the evolution of life, the emergence of humankind, and foraging, agrarian and modern human lifeways.
  • Integrate and critically evaluate sources of information from different disciplines, presented in different media, and conduct short research projects that enable them to answer questions of interpretation.
  • Focus on “interconnections between people and communities in all eras of human history,” and identify crucial turning points “in the ways we humans produced and distributed food; organized ourselves in communities; defined and explored and populated our environment; experienced, responded to, and often created ‘worldwide’ crises; and increased or decreased in numbers.” (Bain and McArthur Harris, Preface to This Fleeting World)


  • First Term: 50%
    • History Lab #1: 10%
    • History Lab #2: 10%
    • December Exam: 30%
  • Second Term: 50%
    • History Lab #3: 10%
    • History Lab #4: 10%
    • April Exam: 30%


There is no required textbook for this course. Students who wish to supplement the lectures with a textbook are encouraged to read along in the following text, available at the campus bookstore and on reserve at Weldon. This is optional and not required.

  • James McClellan and Harold Dorn, Science and Technology in World History (Second Edition) (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006).

There will be required readings for some weeks and some of the written assignments; these will all be distributed online or in class.