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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Bruce W Hevly
HIST 313
Seattle Campus

Science in Civilization: Physics and Astrophysics Since 1850

Organization and pursuit of the physical and astrophysical sciences, focusing on the major unifying principles of physics and astronomy and the social and cultural settings in which they were created. Offered: jointly with ASTR 313.

Class description

An intellectual history of physics and astrophysics in the nineteenth and twentieth century, focusing on the ways in which the structures and content of the sciences have been shaped by cultural contexts; also by relationships of physics to industry, politics, and war.

After considering the establishment of and the controversies over Newtonianism in the eighteenth century, and the emergence of an experimental program covering heat, light, electricity and magnetism, the course focuses on the period from 1800 (when electric current became widely available and manageable)until the 1970s. The course is comparative between the contexts of Germany, France, Britain, and the United States.

Student learning goals

Students will be able to recognize and construct (or reproduce) contextual arguments concerning the history of physics.

Students will have control of a basic narrative of the history of physics and astrophysics in Europe from 1800 to the 1970s, including cosmology, spectroscopy, electricity and magnetism, gravity, geophysics, thermodynamics, atomic and nuclear physics.

Students will understand the use of philosophy to provide milestones in the history of science.

Students will understand the concepts of internalist and externalist explanations in the history of physics, and the grounds on which such explanations have been superseded.

Students will practice writing history essays, interpreting primary sources and integrating the work of other historians.

Students will understand how institutions and cultures exemplify the historian's idea of context.

General method of instruction

Lectures, with class discussions as supplement.

Recommended preparation

No prior preparation in history or physics is required or expected. This is an introductory course. Students with advanced preparation in physics or astronomy can be accomodated with more technically challenging materials.

Class assignments and grading

This course is structured around lectures and critical readings of a series of primary and secondary sources. Grades to be assigned based on exams (essay and short answer), and a series of writing assignments. W credit will be offered.

Two short essays; weekly short-answer assignments; two take-home midterm exams; two-hour final examination per the University examination schedule.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Bruce W Hevly
Date: 01/23/2013