Day 3: Enlightenment Ideas on Gender and Education

Day 3 of our class will be entirely discussion based.  In an attempt to recreate the coffee houses of the eighteenth century, I will provide coffee for the class, and we will discuss both our homework readings and some in-class readings.

Building on our homework reading by Charlotte Sleigh, students will discuss in groups the connections between science and literature.  Is C.P. Snow’s “two cultures” still a useful construct?  If science and literature are both shaped by the culture in which they are constructed, shouldn’t there be some interplay between the two? What examples can we think of where science has shaped a literary plot?  What impact did writers like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells have on the following generations of scientists?  Can literature meaningfully alter our perspectives on certain scientific and ethical issues?

Our in-class readings will focus on eighteenth-century understandings of women’s nature and whether or not women needed equal education as men.  We will analyze excerpts from Astell, Rousseu, Condorcet, Jaucuort, and Wollstonecraft for insight on Enlightenment ideas on science, gender and education.


  • To do well on your group papers, you will need good teamwork and equal participation from all the group members.  Please read the linked 3 page paper, “Coping with Hitchhikers and Couch Potatoes on Teams.”  In the comments below (or in an email to me if you’d prefer more privacy), write a paragraph about an experience you’ve had in a previous class with a hitchhiker or couch potato.  What happened, how did you handle it, and what would you change if it happened again?
  • The longer reading is an overview of science in the coffee house.   Just as coffee and comfy chairs bolstered our conversation today, scientists have long met in coffee houses to discuss their work, promote their careers, and gossip.  The Temple Coffee-House Club is one of the best known groups who met at coffee houses.  Here is a link for for Margaret Riley’s 2006 article over this group.  Please read this and bring it with you to class tomorrow for discussion.

Day 2: Mechanical Philosophy

On Tuesday,  we will start off with a discussion assignment called Advising the Pope.  Working in groups, students will be teleported back to 1614 to act as advisors to Pope Paul V in appointing a new court astronomer.  Students will evaluate the three leading astronomical systems of the day (Ptolemaic, Copernican, and Tychonic) and advise his Holiness as to which system is the best.

Afterwards, we will have a lecture on Mechanical Philosophy and its influence on the history of physics and astronomy.


  • Read Charlotte Sleigh’s “Introduction” chapter from Literature & Science.  Sleigh’s book argues the central tenet of this course: the idea that literature can show us the social impact of science and the reciprocal influence of society on science.
  • In the comments explain C.P. Snow’s idea of “two cultures.”  Then quote a passage from Sleigh that refutes this concept and explain the quote.

Galileo and the Church

Galileo and the Church

In response to a question by noted physicist and television personality Brian Cox, Thony Christie wrote a very nice overview of the relationship between Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church.  This would be a good preparatory reading for our discussion of Galileo on Tuesday, June 10th.  Thony has also just posted a blog on the importance of Galileo’s observations of Venus, which we will also be discussion.

First Day of Class

Today is our first class meeting and, in addition to our class syllabus, we will be discussing the following questions:

  1. What is Science?
  2. What is History?
  3. What is the History of Science?

I will then give a lecture over the history of astronomy from Aristotle to Kepler to contextualize the course’s focal subject: the history of science after Newton.

Below is a link for the course files for today.  Note that if you want to download the pptx file you should click the link, but the file will likely not render correctly in your web browser.  You need to download it to your computer and open it using PowerPoint.  To view the file in your browser, please use the Google Slides or .pdf format.


  • Read “A Student’s Guide to Academic Integrity” from the University of Oklahoma and take a quiz over it in on our course page in
  • Read chapter one from Peter Dear’s The Intelligibility of Nature (pdf available in the course files).  This is a brief reading on Galileo and Newton.
  • Answer the following question in the comments for this blog post: What should our goals as a class be?  What can we hope to achieve with a history of science class?  List three things you would like to learn more about, one skill you would like to develop, and any suggestions you have for the course.

HSCI 3023 by John Stewart History of Science Departent University of Oklahoma