Our Approach

The Department of the History of Science is a historic name that we value--but its remit has grown extensively since the 1930s when the department was established at Harvard University. First, the department has greatly widened the scope of the topics we study to include not only the traditionally structured sciences of classical physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, and the medical sciences, but also the social sciences—among them economics, political science, and psychology—as well as historiography, studies of gender and race, and the humanities, including literature, arts, and history of philosophy. We integrate the sociology of science into our approach and have close connections with the STS program in the Kennedy School.  Together this array of choices allows for a comprehensive exploration of the history of knowledge in its various cross-connections, past and present, local and global.  Second, we use an ever-broadening range of methods, from archival-historical and technical close reading, to material culture, to ethnography and participant observation.   Third, we address an increasing diversity of audiences, from scholars in the academy to participants in international conversations about topical and pressing issues such as global health, climate change, the disposition of nuclear materials, and governmental and regulatory policy.  

With this broad and diverse set of methodologies, subjects, and fields our conception of science, technology, and medical studies is that of a big tent, one capacious enough to include both small-group sociological studies as well as an exciting range of tools deployed over the last 30 years--new kinds of ethnography, gender and race studies of science, technology, and medicine, literary and rhetorical explorations, instrument-based inquiries, and visual STS.  We interconnect with contemporary science policy through the Kennedy School program in Science, Technology, and Society. Students and faculty bring to bear a mix of methods to the distant past while others put the history of the present, and even the unfolding future, under the microscope.  

The doctoral program in the history of science trains scholars to study science, medicine, and technology and their interactions in historical, social, and cultural contexts. Students select courses in history of science, history, and from the fields of philosophy, government, literature, sociology, anthropology, law, public health, and public policy.  

An important element of our program is the possibility of pursuing a Graduate Secondary Field such as:

Critical Media Practice
Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality
Film and Visual Studies
Science, Technology, and Society

As this expanded range indicates, our tools for studying scientific, technical, and medical work are broad and diverse.  

Our big tent approach is expanded even further through the potential for participating in the Program on Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology may be taken by cross-registration, and Science, Technology and Public Policy at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.