Vintage map of the British Empire

Examining the role of Western and non-Western knowledge in the development of modern science

Module details

Offered to 1st years
Tuesdays 16.00-18.00
8 weeks (autumn term only)
Non-credit only

How to enrol

This module examines the reciprocal role of Europe, on the one hand, and of the Pacific, Africa, Asia, and the Americas, on the other, in the development of natural sciences from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. How did the peoples and places outside Europe shape science? Why were Christian missionaries so closely connected to the expansion of empire, the collection of new knowledge, and the attempts to spread new scientific ideas and technologies? How were ‘scientific’ ideas about race, biology, and medicine, and new technologies such as photography used to govern the subjects of European empires? These are some of the issues you will explore on this course. In addition, through the study of the non-Western origins of knowledge about the natural sciences and medicine, students will examine how modern science itself came to be constituted and transformed over the long nineteenth century into what is recognisable as ‘modern science’ today. 

Information blocks

Learning outcomes

Boat at Sunset

  • Examine key historical, intellectual and developmental concepts from the history of science and empire.
  • Integrate concepts using self-directed primary and secondary historical research.
  • Present individual and group work to your peers andrespond to constructive feedback from facilitator and other learners.
  • Apply key concepts, research, and feedback to write a history of science analytical essay.
  • Evaluate current curriculum provision and use digital tools to contribute to future history of science curriculum development.


Indicative core content

Captain Cook's ship

  • Captain Cook and the exploration of the Pacific: the ‘Second Age of Exploration’, the life of James Cook, the history of the Pacific in the history of science after Cook
  • Non-Western knowledge of nature, science, and medicine: how Europeans relied on indigenous people for new knowledge, collaborations in botanical investigation in South Africa, British collaboration with Indian experts and knowledge practitioners
  • Orientalism: how westerners saw ‘the other’ and its impact on the emergence of specifically Western science.
  • Missionaries and empire: missionaries as imperial pioneers, missionary science and theology
  • Charles Darwin and evolution: the impact of Darwin’s first voyage to Tierra del Fuego on his later thinking on natural selection and evolution, the history of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species
  • Race, colonial photography, and the ‘spectacle of empire’: race as a colonial category, the ‘scientific’ study of race by ethnologists and anthropologists, the photography and display of non-Western peoples
  • Tropical medicine and psychiatry: the intersection of racial and environmental theories with medical and psychiatric theories and practices, the concern for hygiene and sanitation as an instrument in the subjugation of colonial subjects
  • The scramble for Africa: the role of Western technology and medicine in the ‘scramble’, the impact of mining technologies on colonial Africa


  • Final essay (80%)
  • Contribution to group presentation (20%)

Key information

  • ECTS value: 0
  • Requirements: You must be prepared to attend all classes and to spend about an hour a week preparing for each session
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 4 course. See Imperial Horizons level descriptors [pdf]
"Really enjoyed Horizons and other than the content, another huge factor is Mr Michael Weatherburn who is always prepared for each lesson and very interesting. The pacing is good and he shares very relevant yet thought-stimulating content with us which really broadened my horizons and made Horizons a priceless learning experience. Many thanks to him and all involved with the module."