History and Science

Professor Alex Csiszar, Acting Director of Undergraduate Studies

The History and Science concentration at Harvard is a flourishing interdisciplinary field of study. We are also a small and friendly concentration, with a real sense of community, and we pride ourselves on finding ways to nurture students’ individual interests through a flexible curriculum, and opportunities for one-on-one instruction, internships, behind the scenes museum and exhibition design opportunities, research assistantships with faculty, and special travel programs for concentrators only.

Why should I consider History and Science?

History and Science may be a good choice for you if:

(1) You would like to do significant work in some area of science (any field taught in the College) and combine it with historical, ethical and social analysis of how science, medicine, or technology works in the world.

 (2) You are interested in the ways in which science, medicine or technology is affected by (and in turn affects) important issues in politics, industry and policy, whether climate change, the teaching of evolution in the public schools, the patenting of genes and new forms of life, and more.

(3) You are interested in big questions  -- the existence of God, the nature of free will, the roots of human morality, and more – and would like to understand the ways in which science has shaped or is shaping the ways in which we think about them.

(4) You are considering attending medical school, and would like a concentration that allows you to count many of your premed science requirements, even as you take classes and do advanced research in the history of medicine, medical anthropology, and health policy.

(5) You are interested in computer science, or considering a career in engineering or information technology, and would like a concentration that allows you to count many computer science and engineering classes for concentration credit, even as you to take classes and do advanced research in the history and social analysis of technology, computer science, and the world of big data.

(5) You are – or aspire to be – a person who is equally literate in the world of the sciences and the world of the humanities and the social sciences.

(6) You would value a concentration that cares deeply about teaching, provides abundant opportunities for interaction with faculty, and will rigorously train you in essential analytic, presentation, and research skills that will be valuable for you, no matter what career you choose to pursue.

How is the concentration structured?

The concentration has a two-track structure that provides students with high levels of flexibility. Both of the tracks offer an honors and a non-honors option.

The Science and Society Track is designed for students who have an interest in doing significant course work in an area of science but who also want to study how science develops and affects the world: how it relates to industry, policy, politics and the broader culture. Students can both do science and analyze how science functions in the world of human affairs.

The History of Science Track does not require students to take science courses beyond the level mandated by General Education (though some may choose to do so and receive concentration credit). It offers students the possibility of studying the history and social relations of science more broadly. By taking a combination of courses from our department and also outside of it, students can learn how sciences as diverse as theoretical physics and economics interact with other areas of culture such as literature, film, art, or government.

Concentrators in History and Science generally combine course-work in the history of science, medicine or technology (broadly defined) with course-work focused in any area of science taught in the College. Our students also often take courses for concentration credit in global health, science and religion, medical ethics, sociology of science, philosophy of science, anthropology of medicine, and more. Tutorials are aimed at introducing concentrators to some of the most exciting questions in the field and training them with the reading, research, and writing skills they need to do original research of their own. By the time of graduation, all our concentrators possess advanced social science research skills, and often produce original academic work of very high quality.

The concentration also offers three special foci or paths through the program: (1) Medicine and Society,(2) Mind, Brain, and Behavior, and  (3) Technology, Information, and Society.

Medicine and Society offers pre-medical students an opportunity to combine the science work required of them for medical school with disciplined historical and social science analysis of medicine, health care, public health and the allied medical sciences and medical technologies. This is an honors-only plan of study, and all students must write a senior thesis

 Mind, Brain, Behavior offers students with interdisciplinary leanings an opportunity to join a College-wide community of undergraduates from six different departments who have interests in the neurosciences and their allied fields, all while focusing their own studies in a mix of psychology, brain science, and the history of the mind, brain and human sciences. This is an honors-only plan of study, and all students must write a senior thesis

Technology, Information and Society offers students an opportunity to combine coursework in computer science and its allied fields (including select courses in engineering sciences) with courses in the history and social study of technology, computing, and information science. This is an honors-optional plan of study. Students are encouraged to write a senior thesis, but some may choose instead to take more advanced work in engineering or computer science during the course of their senior year.

What are the requirements?

Every concentrator will take History of Science 100, (or an approved substitute), which is offered in the fall semester. In addition, every concentrator will take one semester of sophomore tutorial and one semester of junior tutorial, taught by faculty members and teaching fellows from the Department of the History of Science.

History of Science 97, the sophomore tutorial, is a hands-on course that introduces students to some of the most exciting and productive questions in the history of science, technology, and medicine, while developing critical reading, presentation, and discussion skills. Students work in groups to explore different aspects of a larger theme each week and share discoveries in sessions led by the faculty instructor. The course is further enhanced by a series of supervised individual group projects.

History of Science 98, the junior tutorial, is a course designed to train students in historical research, from how to work in archives to how to master relevant theoretical perspectives needed to think well about a research question. All students enrolled in this course are guided through an intense but supportive mentoring process that results in a 25-page independent research paper.

History of Science 99ab, the senior thesis tutorial, is an opportunity to spend a sustained period of time working on a research problem. Students choosing to write a senior thesis may be supervised by a faculty member or an advanced graduate student, and are free to pursue a diverse range of topics. Many of our theses go on to win College awards, and some have even been published. Students are welcome to look through the collection of past and present senior theses which are located in the Department of the History of Science.

What can graduates do with a degree in History and Science?

Our graduates frequently go on to successful careers in many areas, especially in jobs or forms of further professional training that require or value both technical and social scientific understanding of information science, biotechnology, medicine, health and global health, the law, and public policy. Many win prestigious fellowships that allow them to pursue further academic study. Our alumni have had this to say about their experience with us:

“It was the most flexible, versatile, and practical concentration on campus. It prepared me for both research endeavors within the halls of academia as well as the critical thinking skills needed for graduate degree work.”

 “History and Science is the best concentration of all time. Period…Liberal arts educations aren’t intended to ‘qualify’ you for any particular job, but History and science provides you with a truly broad based, well rounded education and teaches you novel ways of looking at the world which have been invaluable to ne as a lawyer and as a human being.”

Employers are increasingly looking for graduates who are not just literate but also scientifically literate, not just technically skilled in a special subject but able to see the larger cultural, social, and policy implications and impact of scientific and technical developments.  If this kind of breadth of vision appeals, our concentration may be right for you.

REQUIREMENTS
History of Science Track
Basic Requirements: 11 courses (44 credits)

  1. Required courses:
    1. History of Science 100: Knowing the World: Introduction to the History of Science.
    2. Six courses in the history of science, medicine, and technology. One should be a broad gateway course and another one should be a department conference course (or a 200-level course, with the approval of the instructor). One may include supervised reading and research, or another special project.
    3. Two courses, normally outside the department, designed to allow students to connect special interests in the history of science to relevant course work offered in other departments; examples include certain courses in history, film studies, sociology, religion, medical anthropology, philosophy of science, and literature.
  2. Tutorials:
    1. Sophomore year: History of Science 97 (one course) required, group tutorial. Letter-graded.
    2. Junior year: History of Science 98 (one term) required. Letter-graded.
  3. Thesis: None.
  4. General Examination: None.
  5. Other information:
    1. Pass/Fail: Two non-letter graded courses, including relevant Freshman Seminars taught by department faculty, may count for concentration credit.
    2. Study Abroad: Students may elect to study abroad during their junior year. The department will count up to two approved courses out of residence towards concentration requirements. There is also the possibility of receiving two courses' worth of credit for participation in a summer study abroad program led by a member of the Department. Please consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the Manager of Student Programs for more information.

History of Science Track
Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 13 courses (52 credits)

  1. Required courses:
    1. History of Science 100: Knowing the World: Introduction to the History of Science.
    2. Six courses in the history of science, medicine, and technology. One should be a broad gateway course and another one should be a department conference course (or a 200-level course, with the approval of the instructor). One may include supervised reading and research, or another special project. No more than two of the courses may be introductory, and one must cover a period of time before 1800.
    3. Two courses, normally outside the department, designed to allow students to connect special interests in the history of science to relevant course work offered in other departments; examples include certain courses in history, film studies, sociology, religion, medical anthropology, philosophy of science, and literature.
  2. Tutorials:
    1. Sophomore year: History of Science 97 (one term) required, group tutorial. Letter-graded.
    2. Junior year: History of Science 98 (one term) required. Letter-graded.
    3. Senior year: History of Science 99ab (two terms) required (preparation of senior honors thesis). Graded Sat/Unsat.
  3. Thesis: Required.
  4. General Examination: None.
  5. Other information:
    1. Pass/Fail: Two non-letter graded courses, including relevant Freshman Seminars taught by department faculty, may count for concentration credit.
    2. Study Abroad: Students may elect to study abroad during their junior year. The department will count up to two approved courses out of residence towards concentration requirements. There is also the possibility of receiving two courses worth of credit for participation in a summer study abroad program led by a member of the Department. Please consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the Manager of Student Programs for more information.

History of Science Track
Non-Thesis Option: 12 courses (48 credits)

  1. Required courses: Same as Basic Requirements.
  2. Tutorials: Same as Basic Requirements.
  3. Thesis: None.
  4. General Examination: None.
  5. Other information: Same as Basic Requirements, plus the following:
    1. Minimum concentration GPA: Students must have a concentration GPA equivalent to the College-wide cut-off for degrees Magna cum Laude in Field. Concentration grade-point averages will be calculated from a student’s best twelve courses that meet the requirements, including final semester grades.
    2. One graduate-level course: Students must successfully complete (with a minimum B+ grade) at least one graduate-level (i.e., 200-level) course taught by a member of the History of Science faculty or in an appropriate other department (e.g., History). This requirement can also be met by completing a graduate-level track of work, as determined by the faculty instructor, offered within a 100-level course. The requirement is normally fulfilled in the senior year.
    3. Determination of Departmental Honors: A degree recommendation of Honors (not High or Highest Honors) will be awarded to students who meet these requirements.

Science and Society Track
Basic Requirements: 11 courses (44 credits)

  1. Required courses:
    1. History of Science 100: Knowing the World: Introduction to the History of Science.
    2. Four courses in the history of science, medicine, and technology. Normally, at least three of the four courses must be in the history of science. One may include supervised reading and research, or another special project. Historically-oriented courses in other fields may be counted towards this requirement (with the approval of the Director of Undergraduate Studies).
    3. Four courses in science, all in one coherent field, though not necessarily in one department. No more than two may be introductory. Note: Courses may be drawn from any of the physical and biological or life sciences.
  2. Tutorials:
    1. Sophomore year: History of Science 97 (one term) required, group tutorial. Letter-graded.
    2. Junior year: History of Science 98 (one term) required. Letter-graded.
  3. Thesis: None.
  4. General Examination: None.
  5. Other information:
    1. Two non-letter graded courses, including relevant Freshman Seminars taught by department faculty, may count for concentration credit.
    2. Students may elect to study abroad during their junior year. The department will count up to two approved courses out of residence towards concentration requirements. Please consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the Manager of Student Programs for more information.

Science and Society Track
Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 13 courses (52 credits)

  1. Required courses:
    1. History of Science 100: Knowing the World: Introduction to the History of Science.
    2. Four courses in the history of science, medicine and technology. Normally, at least three of the four courses must be in the history of science. One may include supervised reading and research, or another special project. Historically-oriented courses in other fields may be counted towards this requirement (with the approval of the Director of Undergraduate Studies). No more than two of the courses may be introductory, and one must cover a period of time before 1800.
    3. Four courses in science, all in one coherent field, though not necessarily in one department. No more than two may be introductory. Note: Courses may be drawn from any of the physical and biological or life sciences.
  2. Tutorials:
    1. Sophomore year: History of Science 97 (one term) required, group tutorial. Letter-graded.
    2. Junior year: History of Science 98 (one term) required. Letter-graded.
    3. Senior year: History of Science 99ab (two terms) required (preparation of senior honors thesis). Grade Sat/Unsat.
  3. Thesis: Required.
  4. General Examination: None.
  5. Other information:
    1. Pass/Fail: Two non-letter graded courses, including relevant Freshman Seminars taught by department faculty, may count for concentration credit.
    2. Study Abroad: Students may elect to study abroad during their junior year. There is also the possibility of receiving two courses worth of credit for participation in a summer study abroad program led by a member of the department. Please consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the Manager of Student Programs for more information.

Science and Society Track
Non-Thesis Option: 12 courses (48 credits)

  1. Required courses: Same as Basic Requirements.
  2. Tutorials: Same as Basic Requirements.
  3. Thesis: None.
  4. General Examination: None.
  5. Other information: Same as Basic Requirements, plus the following:
    1. Minimum concentration GPA: Students must have a concentration GPA equivalent to the College-wide cut-off for degrees Magna cum Laude in Field. Concentration grade-point averages will be calculated from a student’s best twelve courses that meet the requirements, including final semester grades.
    2. One graduate-level course: Students must successfully complete (with a minimum B+ grade) at least one graduate-level (i.e., 200-level) course taught by a member of the History of Science faculty or in an appropriate other department (e.g., History). This requirement can also be met by completing a graduate-level track of work, as determined by the faculty instructor, offered within a 100-level course. The requirement is normally fulfilled in the senior year.
    3. Determination of Departmental Honors: A degree recommendation of Honors (not High or Highest Honors) will be awarded to students who meet these requirements.

Medicine and Society
Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 14 courses (56 credits)

The Medicine and Society focus in the Science and Society track is appropriate for students considering a career in medicine, health sciences, health policy, or who otherwise have a pronounced interest in the medical sciences. It allows students to combine course work in many of the scientific subjects required for medical school admission with a coherent program of courses that look at health and medicine from a range of historical, social scientific and humanistic perspectives.

  1. Required courses:
    1. History of Science 100: Knowing the World: Introduction to the History of Science.
    2. Four courses in medical sciences. No more than two courses may be introductory. Courses should be relevant courses in chemistry, the life sciences, the physical sciences, mathematics, molecular and cellular biology, organismic and evolutionary biology, neurobiology, or human evolutionary biology.
    3. Five additional courses:
        1. At least two courses must be in the history of medicine or its allied fields (including the life sciences, mind sciences, bioethics, and biotechnology) and be taught by members of the Department of the History of Science.
        2. Two courses will normally be drawn from other disciplines concerned with the social, ethical, or humanistic analysis of medicine and health (e.g., anthropology, economics, ethics, sociology).
        3. One course may be an open-ended elective that can be fulfilled by taking any of the courses offered by the Department of the History of Science.
  2. Tutorials:
    1. Sophomore year: History of Science 97 (one term) required, group tutorial. Letter-graded.
    2. Junior year: History of Science 98 (one term) required. Letter-graded.
    3. Senior year: History of Science 99ab (two terms) required. Preparation of senior honors thesis; normally, this will deal with some historical question to do with medicine and health, broadly understood. Graded Sat/Unsat.
  3. Thesis: Required.
  4. General Examination: None.
  5. Other information:
    1. Pass/Fail: Two non-letter graded courses, including relevant Freshman Seminars taught by department faculty, may count for concentration credit.
    2. Study Abroad: Students may elect to study abroad during their junior year. There is also the possibility of receiving two courses worth of credit for participation in a summer study abroad program led by a member of the department. Please consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the Manager of Student Programs for more information.

More information may be found in the Focus in Medicine and Society guide, which is available in the Undergraduate Office, Science Center 355. Students may also consult the History of Science department website.

Mind, Brain, and Behavior Sciences
Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 14 courses (56 credits)

Students interested in integrating serious study of the sciences of mind, brain, and behavior with thoughtful attention to sociocultural, philosophical, and historical questions raised by those sciences may pursue a Mind, Brain, and Behavior (MBB) focus in History and Science, developed in collaboration with the Standing Committee on Neuroscience and the University-wide Mind/ Brain/Behavior Interfaculty Initiative. (Mind, Brain, and Behavior tracks are also available in Human Evolutionary Biology, Computer Science, Linguistics, Philosophy, and Psychology.) Requirements for this program are based on those of the Science and Society track, except that:

  1. At least three of the five sociocultural courses should be historical in nature. Up to two courses may be taken in an auxiliary area, such as:
    1. Health and Science Policy
    2. Medical Anthropology
    3. Religion and Ethics
    4. Philosophy of Mind & Behavior
  2. The four courses in science must include Science of Living Systems 20; the remaining three courses in science must include MCB 80 (ordinarily in the sophomore year), and at least two advanced science courses that focus in one of the following areas (in some circumstances, courses from two areas may be combined):
    1. Cognitive Systems
    2. Psychopathology
    3. Human Evolutionary Biology
    4. Child Development and the Brain
    5. Computational Neuroscience
    6. Neurobiology

Students pursuing the MBB track are also expected to participate in the University-wide MBB research milieu, including a non-credit senior year seminar for MBB thesis writers.

Technology, Information, and Society
Basic Requirements: 12 courses (48 credits)

  1. Required courses:
    1. History of Science 100: Knowing the World: Introduction to the History of Science.
    2. Four courses in the history of science and technology designed to study the larger historical, ethical, and social implications of technology, engineering, and information in the modern world.  Two of the four courses may be taken in the General Education program, but two should normally be at least 100-level courses in the History of Science department.  Normally, one of the courses may be taken in an area outside the primary focus (e.g., history of medicine).
    3. Five courses in computer science or an area of engineering taught in the College (bioengineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, environmental science and engineering). No more than two may be introductory. Note: Normally, students will begin with a foundational course recommended by the relevant science department and then take a minimum of four additional courses.
  2. Tutorials:
    1. Sophomore year: History of Science 97 (one term) required, group tutorial. Letter-graded.
    2. Junior year: History of Science 98 (one term) required. Letter-graded.
  3. Thesis: None.
  4. General Examination: None.
  5. Other information:
    1. Two non-letter graded courses, including relevant Freshman Seminars taught by department faculty, may count for concentration credit.
    2. Students may elect to study abroad during their junior year. The department will count up to two approved courses out of residence towards concentration requirements. Please consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the Manager of Student Programs for more information.

Technology, Information, and Society
Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 14 courses (56 credits)

  1. Required courses:
    1. History of Science 100: Knowing the World: Introduction to the History of Science.
    2. Four courses in the history of science and technology designed to study the larger historical, ethical, and social implications of technology, engineering, and information in the modern world.  Two of the four courses may be taken in the General Education program, but two should normally be at least 100-level courses in the History of Science department.  Normally, one of the courses may be taken in an area outside the primary focus (e.g., history of medicine).
    3. Five courses in computer science or an area of engineering taught in the College (bioengineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, environmental science and engineering). No more than two may be introductory. Note: Normally, students will begin with a foundational course recommended by the relevant science department and then take a minimum of four additional courses.
  2. Tutorials: 
    1. Sophomore year: History of Science 97 (one term) required, group tutorial. Letter-graded.
    2. Junior year: History of Science 98 (one term) required. Letter-graded.
    3. Senior year: History of Science 99ab (two terms) required. Preparation of senior honors thesis; normally, this will deal with some historical question to do with technology, information, and society, broadly understood. Graded Sat/Unsat.
  3. Thesis: Required.
  4. General Examination: None.
  5. Other information
    1. Pass/Fail: Two non-letter graded courses, including relevant Freshman Seminars taught by department faculty, may count for concentration credit.
    2. Study Abroad: Students may elect to study abroad during their junior year. There is also the possibility of receiving two courses worth of credit for participation in a summer study abroad program led by a member of the department. Please consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the Manager of Student Programs for more information.

Technology, Information, and Society
Non-thesis Option: 13 courses (52 credits)

  1. Required courses: Same as Basic Requirements.
  2. Tutorials: Same as Basic Requirements.
  3. Thesis: None.
  4. General Examination: None.
  5. Other information: Same as Basic Requirements, plus the following:
    1. Minimum concentration GPA: Students must have a concentration GPA equivalent to the College-wide cut-off for degrees Magna cum Laude in Field. Concentration grade-point averages will be calculated from a student’s best twelve courses that meet the requirements, including final semester grades.
    2. One graduate-level course: Students must successfully complete (with a minimum B+ grade) at least one graduate-level (i.e., 200-level) course taught by a member of the History of Science faculty or in an appropriate other department (e.g., History). This requirement can also be met by completing a graduate-level track of work, as determined by the faculty instructor, offered within a 100-level course. The requirement is normally fulfilled in the senior year.

Determination of Departmental Honors: A degree recommendation of Honors (not High or Highest Honors) will be awarded to students who meet these requirements.

ADVISING

During AY 2017-2018, Professor Alex Csiszar will be Acting Director of Undergraduate Studies and has overall responsibility for advising in the concentration. He is also available for individual consultation (acsiszar@fas.harvard.edu). Students seeking advice on course selection, or any other aspect of the concentration, should first contact Alice Belser, the Manager of Student Programs (ajbelser@fas.harvard.edu). Faculty in charge of students’ history of science tutorials also function as advisers: sophomores may consult with the faculty in charge of the sophomore tutorial; juniors with faculty responsible for their junior tutorials; and seniors with the senior tutorial course head.

For up-to-date information on advising in History and Science, please see the Advising Programs Office website.

HOW TO FIND OUT MORE

For more information, students can also contact the Manager of Student Programs, Alice Belser, ajbelser@fas.harvard.edu, 617-495-3742, Science Center 355, or the Acting Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Alex Csiszar, acsiszar@fas.harvard.edu, Science Center 458. The Department's main website is histsci.fas.harvard.edu.

ENROLLMENT STATISTICS
Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
History and Science 109 116 135 118 121 102 108 96 107
History and Science + another field 4 1 1 3 5 7 2 1 3
Another field + History and Science 1 1 2 5 3 1 0 0 0