Undergraduate Program Description
What is the history of science?
Science and technology have had a tremendous impact on the modern world. Conceptions of nature-physical, vital, human-change through time, transforming political, social, and spiritual life. Historians of science study these developments, and try to understand how, in different times and places, human beings have made sense of their world (and tried to mobilize what they learned). From Copernicus to the atom bomb, from Archimedes to Freud, the history of science investigates dramatic changes in scientific ideas, and unfolds their complex implications.
How can I study the history of science at Princeton?
Princeton University has a distinguished tradition of excellence in the history of science. Several of the most important scholars in the field in the twentieth century called Princeton home. Currently, courses in the history of science for undergraduates are offered in the history department, and they cover topics ranging from the scientific revolution to the history of biology in the twentieth century (click here to see a list of courses now being offered). These courses are open to anyone curious about science and society. In addition, the department offers a concentration in the history of science. Concentrators are exempt from most of the ordinary distribution and entry requirements for the history department, since several of their science courses count as departmentals. The number of concentrators varies from year to year, but it is generally around a dozen students, quite a few of whom are also pre-med (the concentration is designed to take advantage of the pre-med requirements, reducing the overall course load for pre-meds who want to study history). The history of science concentration combines many of the advantages of a small major (close work with faculty, a strong sense of community), with all the virtues of a large department (since students can draw on the resources of the whole history department as well). If you are interested in science and/or engineering, but also enjoy the humanities, history of science could be for you. For more information about the concentration please contact Professor D. Graham Burnett.
If I am a history of science concentrator, what kind of job can I get?
Concentrators in the history of science do all kinds of things after graduation: in addition to medical school, law school, and business school, our students have gone on in banking, consulting, teaching, and politics. Because of the ever-increasing importance of science and technology in daily life, a concentration in the history of science can be a real advantage with many potential employers. It demonstrates an interest in, and some proficiency with, technical fields like computing, mathematics, and molecular biology along with concern for the broader social impact of innovation. This sort of training is good for doctors, but also for patent lawyers, designers, product developers, venture capitalists, and indeed anyone who needs to think about the future of science and technology.
What kinds of theses do history of science concentrators write?
The thesis is the capstone experience at Princeton, and history of science concentrators have written prize-winning theses on a wide range of different sciences, in many different times and places. Recent topics include: the history of American environmentalism; the history of nuclear magnetic resonance imaging; a study of changing definitions of schizophrenia in the twentieth century; an analysis of Pasteur’s science in colonial Algeria; the history of venereal disease during World War I; the history of the telescope in the seventeenth century; a study of bridge engineering and the industrial revolution; and the history of electronic computing.