Vintage map of the British Empire

Exploring people, places and technologies and the development of modern science

Module details

  • Offered to 1st years
  • Tuesdays 16.00-18.00
  • 8 weeks (autumn term only)
  • Planned delivery: On-campus (South Kensington)
  • Non-credit only
How to enrol

From Captain Cook’s voyages of discovery in the 1760s and 1770s, to those of Charles Darwin in the 1820s and 1830s, the expansion of empire and the accumulation of scientific knowledge went hand-in-hand.

This module examines the role of Europe, on the one hand, and of the Pacific, Africa, Asia, and the Americas, on the other, in the development of the natural sciences from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century. How did peoples and places outside Europe shape the sciences? 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 so-called ‘scientific’ ideas about race and biology used to govern subjects of the British, French, and Dutch empires? And what is the legacy of these endeavours today?

Information blocks

Learning outcomes

Boat at Sunset

On successful completion of this module, you will be better able to:
  • Discuss key historical, intellectual, and developmental concepts in the history of science and empire.
  • Present group work to your peers and respond to questions and feedback from facilitator and other learners.
  • Apply key concepts, research, and feedback.

Indicative core content


  • European and indigenous knowledge and collaboration
  • The role of missionaries
  • Charles Darwin and evolution
  • Scientific racism
  • Tropical medicine and psychiatry
  • The 'scramble for Africa'
  • Technologies and industries of empire

Learning and teaching approach

Learning materials on this module will include interactive short lectures, historical articles, documentary films, class discussions, and work with a range of primary sources. In weeks 2–7 (inclusive), you will work in groups to prepare and deliver a 10 minute (per group) presentation of a topic or text, which will form part of the assessment for the module; you will be assigned one of the six topics in the first week on the basis of preference. We will also conduct activities that will help to develop your analytical and written skills during our timetabled sessions.

You will submit assignments through the module VLE, though which you will receive written feedback commenting your assessments. You will receive feedback within two weeks of submission.


  • Coursework: Essay (1,300-1,500 words) (80%)
  • Practical: Individual contribution to group presentation (10 minutes per group) (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. For an explanation of levels, view the Imperial Horizons Level Descriptors page.‌