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History of Science & Technology

History of Science & Technology at Smith College

The history of science and technology links many disciplines and cultures: scientific, technological, humanistic and social. Smith’s program in the history of science and technology is designed to serve all Smith students. Courses in the program examine science and technology in their cultural and social contexts, and the ways in which scientific inquiries, achievements and debates have shaped and continue to shape human culture (and vice versa). The history of science and technology minor complements majors in the humanities, social sciences and the natural sciences.

Requirements & Courses

The Program in the History of Science and Technology at Smith aims to cultivate in students a critical, historical understanding of science and technology and their interactions with each other. Students minoring in the program study science and technology in their social, cultural and intellectual milieus. They do so in an interdisciplinary setting, with faculty and approaches drawn from all of the major divisions of the college.

The study of the history of science and technology offers many rewards. Careful analysis and criticism of texts and objects is useful for all students. Students learn how science and technology have been major forces in the development of human societies and cultures. In addition, they learn how the theoretical and experimental practices of the sciences have been influenced by societies and cultures. Among other functions, exposure to the history of science and technology allows students to see that these endeavors have looked and operated differently in times past, that this history influences their development, and that they are linked to each other and the larger culture in different ways throughout history.

Students come to understand how science and technology progress even though scientists change their minds dramatically, compete quite vigorously and defend ideas in the face of overwhelming counterevidence.

Two courses in the natural or mathematical sciences and two courses in history, chosen in consultation with the student’s minor adviser, and two courses in (or cross-listed in) the history of science and technology program. Normally one of the history of science and technology courses will be Special Studies 404a or 404b, but another course may be substituted with the approval of the adviser. Work at the Smithsonian Institution in the Picker Program counts as one course toward the minor. Students considering a minor in the history of the science and technology are urged to consult with their advisers as early as possible.

If you are interested in becoming a minor, please contact Jeff Ramsey, program director, or any of the other members of the program.

Courses for the minor in the Program in History of Science and Technology allow students to investigate the history of particular sciences, specific historical periods and themes, and the use and construction of historically significant technological instruments.

Fall 2021 Cross-listed Courses

ENG 207/HSC 207 The Technology of Reading and Writing
Offered as ENG 207/HSC 207. An introductory exploration of the physical forms that knowledge and communication have taken in the West, from ancient oral cultures to modern print-literate culture. Our main interest is in discovering how what is said and thought in a culture reflects its available kinds of literacy and media of communication. Topics to include poetry and memory in oral cultures; the invention of writing; the invention of prose; literature and science in a script culture; the coming of printing; changing concepts of publication, authorship and originality; movements toward standardization in language; the fundamentally transformative effects of electronic communication.

AMS 245 Feminist and Indigenous Science Studies
In this course, we will consider such questions as: What do we know and how do we know it? What knowledges count as “science”? How is knowledge culturally situated? How has “science” been central to colonialism and capitalism and what would it mean to decolonize science(s)? Is feminist science possible? We will look at key sites and situations—in media and popular culture, in science writing, in sociological accounts of science, in creation stories and traditional knowledges—in which knowledge around the categories of race, gender, sex, sexuality, sovereignty, and dis/ability are produced, contested and made meaningful.

ANT 135 Introduction to Archaeology
Offered as ANT 135 and ARC 135. This course studies past cultures and societies through their material remains and explores how archaeologists use different field methods, analytical technique and theoretical approaches to investigate, reconstruct and learn from the past. Data from settlement surveys, site excavations and artifact analysis are used to address economic, social, political and ideological questions across time and space. This course is taught from an anthropological perspective, exploring key transitions in human prehistory, including the origins of food production, social inequality and state-level societies across the globe. Relevance of archaeological practice in modern political, economic and social contexts is explored. Limited to first-year students and sophomores. 

FYS 155 Housing In/Justice and Tiny House Dreams
This First Year Seminar combines historical, theoretical, and material-cultural sources about housing in/justice in the United States, including the recent public popularity of tiny homes. We critically consider scholarly and popular cultural sources engaging the present, past, and (potential) future roles of small homes in America, with a special public writing focus on housing justice in western MA. We attend to cultural-historical trends in home size and location as a way to better understand race, class, disability, settler-colonialism, gender, age, sexuality, the urban, nature, sustainability, nation, health, debt, culture, and other analytics key to interdisciplinary college-level scholarship. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students.

Spring 2022

HSC 211 Perspectives in the History of Science: Pandemics
How do we represent pandemics? How do these representations implicate science, politics and society? The prevalent ‘contagion’ frame is a story about seeing the microbe as the enemy, erasing or downplaying human agency and practices (especially the expansion into new ecosystems), and affirming epidemiology and medical science as the only solution. The frame carries over into politics and culture and provides a way to translate the science of contagious disease into social terms that influence the public and also public policy. This frame and others are used to explore past and current pandemics.

Students are encouraged to explore the minor through courses at the Five Colleges, during study abroad and in the Jean Picker Semester-in-Washington Program at the Smithsonian Institution.

Smith College Course Search

Smith’s online catalog includes courses, department data, information on majors and minors, honors programs, and cross-listed and interdepartmental courses. Find courses by number, department, keywords, term offered, number of credits and instructor.

Five College Course Guide

Smith, Amherst, Hampshire and Mount Holyoke colleges, along with the University of Massachusetts Amherst, offer joint courses as well as certificate programs in interdisciplinary fields. Courses are available at no extra cost to Smith students.

History of Science Society

The History of Science Society is dedicated to understanding science, technology and medicine and their interactions with society in their historical context. It provides access to an international bibliography on the development and influence of science.

Society for the History of Technology (SHOT)

The international Society for the History of Technology is dedicated to the historical study of technology and its relations with politics, economics, labor, business, the environment, public policy, science and the arts.



History of Science & Technology

Dewey Hall 202
Smith College
Northampton, MA

Phone: 413-585-3425

Administrative Assistant: Daryl Jett
Director: Jeffry Ramsey