The global history of science, technology and work from classical antiquity to the present day

Module details

  • Offered to 3rd & 4th Years
  • Thursdays 16.00-18.00
  • 2 term module worth 7.5 ECTS
  • Extra Credit or Degree Credit where your department allows
Degree credit module options by departmentHow to enrol

This innovative module situates the histories of science, technology and industry within global history from ancient times to the present day. The concepts of historical time, social and economic development, and even progress will be examined throughout. Continuity, change and the diffusion of knowledge and practices are central themes. We will cover a variety of activities, such as innovation, research, development, production, distribution, maintenance, and disposal. In so doing, we’ll draw on a diverse array of historical sources and research gathered around themes such as power, control, empire, (de)globalisation, autarchy, logistics, gender, organization, and work. The module considers older social science thinkers such as Marx, Weber, and Foucault, as well as more recent commentators.

Information blocks

Learning outcomes


  • Examine key historical and intellectual concepts from the history of science, technology and industry
  • Integrate concepts using self-directed primary and secondary historical research.
  • Present individual and group work to peers and respond to constructive feedback from facilitator and other learners.
  • Apply key concepts, research, and feedback to write an analytical history of science essay.
  • Develop and integrate essay work into an aggregated group historical project.
  • Evaluate current curriculum provision and use digital tools to contribute to future history curriculum development.



Indicative core content


  • Ancient period: continuity and differences. Some ancient innovations are still in use today: e.g. Euclidian geometry, construction materials, pottery, horses. George Basalla and ‘the spread of Western science’.
  • Science in Song China: technological advance in medieval China, China as poised for an industrial revolution half a millennium before Western Europe. The Dark ages in Europe: technological regression after the Fall of Rome. 
  • The Islamic Golden Age: Chinese, Indian, Persian, and Ancient Greek influences on Islamic science, plus mutual engagement between Islamic science and medieval European science. The origins of the Scientific Revolution outside Europe.
  • The ages of exploration: history of voyages of discovery, history of imperial expansion. The art and technology of map-making: early maps, trigonometric surveys and map-making equipment, indigenous peoples in map-making.
  • The first wave of trade globalisation and the factory system: the emergence of Manchester as Cottonopolis and the linked decline of the textiles industry elsewhere such as India. Marx, the industrial revolution, the changing mode of production, and the division of surplus value.
  • Kew, imperialism, and natural improvement: biography of Joseph Banks, Kew Gardens as the epicenter of global botanical networks, the idea of improving science and the transplantation of plants to new environments. Victorian museums of science; collecting and curating the natural world. The dark side of science: scientific racism and social Darwinism.
  • Michel Foucault and discipline: the Enlightenment, Jeremy Bentham, the Panopticon, and Utilitarianism. The growth of paperwork as a method of exercising authority and providing order. Max Weber, authority and technology. Technology as empowering versus technology as an instrument of control.
  • Mass production: Henry Ford, the Model T, the $5 day, and the producer as consumer. The ‘Scale and Scope’ thesis and the rise of the US super-corporation focused on manufacturing. The place of the gigantic private sector firm in the so-called 'American century'.
  • Population bomb: early twentieth-century theorists and theories of eugenics and global population growth in India, Australia, and Britain, the Boserup revisionism of Malthusian theory about population growth and resource shortages in the context of technological development.
  • Cold war, big science: security concerns, and international relations, the opportunity cost of research spending on nuclear arms. Key science models, including the two cultures, the linear model, and declinism.
  • Globalisation and development: The rise of the ‘first world’ and development modelling. Logistics as innovation: storage, fridges, boxes, postal networks and shipping containers.
  • Counterculture: E.F. Schumacher and Small is Beautiful: environmentalism and counterculture in the 1960-1980s period. 
  • ‘The End of History’ and ‘Creative Destruction’: neoliberalism, the reinvention of Marx, No Logo and deindustrialisation.
  • Controversies and debate in the historical development of the internet.
  • Digital disruption and memory decay: examples of declining historical memory, its ramifications, and what we can do about it. The growth of data, forecasting, and the missing link between science and finance.


  • Collaborative first essay: 15% (subdivided: 50% individual mark, 50% group mark)
  • Individual second essay: 30%
  • Individual third essay: 40%
  • Individual presentation: 15%

Key information

  • Requirements: Students are expected to attend all classes and undertake approximately 2-3 hours of private study or reading each week in addition to the assessment
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 6 course.  See Imperial Horizons level descriptors [pdf]
"An extremely interesting module, giving me a completely different, and much broader view of history than I had before."
"from these lectures, I have a renewed sense of academic interest and curiosity, trying to find both context and interesting angles in all walks of life, and will be sure to maintain an interest in history in the future. From talking to friends from the module after lectures and throughout the year I know that everyone enjoyed the module similarly."
"Michael has been one of my favourite lecturers at Imperial thus far! He is incredibly engaging and encourages everyone in the class to explore their personal interests in History. I have learned a lot and had a lot of fun in this module."
"Great module, far exceeded my expectations when coming in. Content is very thought provoking and creates ample room for further discussion and reading."
"Your class provided me with a fascinating perspective and analysis of history, one that I certainly had not considered before. It helped me piece together various events across the globe and form a more comprehensive and complete view of history. Prior to your module, my historical knowledge had been very compartmentalized."
"Brilliantly engaging lecturer - has made me appreciate and enjoy history so much more! Well-structured class and lots of interesting class discussion. Couldn't be any better!"
"Very well structured, with a lot of content covered in an engaging way. Can't overstate how much I've enjoyed this module, it's the reason I look forward to Thursdays. Thank you!"