EAS3237 - The Rise of Science

2019/0 Module description

StaffDr Felicity Henderson - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module description

During the 17th century, Renaissance ways of understanding the natural world slowly gave way to a ‘new philosophy’ – the scientific method. But the process was not straightforward. This module will study literature that emerged from the scientific community and from its critics. What is the best way to construct knowledge? Whose authority should we trust? How should we communicate our ideas? We will explore these questions through a range of literary and scientific texts, images and artefacts from the period.

You do not need to have studied any science in order to take this module.

Module aims

In the modern world, the discourse of science is dominant – but this was not always the case. In this module you will read some of the first texts of the scientific revolution, as well as satires that mocked the new science, and the first work of science fiction in English. The module aims to explore the evolution of ideas about knowledge from the Renaissance to the early 18th century. We will see how new ideas about the natural world were communicated by scientists, and how they were incorporated into the literature of the period. We will also ask how scientists were influenced by more literary writers, and how they constructed their own image as scientists. We will link all this with the period’s increasing interest in the individual, and the rise of the novel. You will encounter some scientific ideas on this module, but you will not need to have a detailed understanding of them in order to study these texts.

The library at Exeter Cathedral has an excellent collection of early-modern scientific and medical books, and we will be using their collections in some of our workshops. These workshops will be held off-campus at the Exeter Cathedral Library.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate knowledge of early-modern scientific writing and literary responses to it
  • 2. Discuss these works in relation to contemporary debates about the construction of knowledge

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse the literature of the early-modern period and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its historical context
  • 4. Demonstrate an advanced ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. Through essay-writing demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, an advanced capacity to construct a coherent, logical and substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose
  • 6. Through other writing tasks demonstrate an ability to communicate complex ideas effectively to a broad non-academic audience

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

An introductory week will explore themes of Renaissance knowledge and power, discussing what knowledge meant in the Renaissance period and linking this with ideas about man's power over nature, and over other people. The following three weeks will investigate the way writers responded to Francis Bacon's new scientific method, and newly available scientific instruments, enabling new 'worlds' to be discovered in space and in the microscopic realm. The middle section of the module will focus on how literary writers characterised science and scientists, and how scientific writers fought back to establish their own authority. The final four weeks will discuss texts in which we can see new scientific knowledge being constructed by scientific and literary writers alike. A range of literary and non-literary texts, and supporting material including images and artefacts, will give context to our discussions.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities33Seminars
Guided independent study33Study group preparation and meetings
Guided independent study70Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided independent study164Reading, research and essay preparation

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Blog post15750 words1-6Oral feedback from peers in seminar, supplemented by feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Essay352000 words1-5Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Essay503250 words1-5Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Blog postBlog post1-6Referral/Deferral period
EssayEssay1-5Referral/Deferral period
EssayEssay1-5Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core reading:

  • Shakespeare, The Tempest
  • Francis Bacon, New Atlantis
  • Francis Godwin, The Man in the Moone
  • Margaret Cavendish, The Blazing World
  • Thomas Shadwell, The Virtuoso
  • Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
  • William Stukeley, Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life

(extracts from other texts will be available via the module’s ELE site)

Indicative secondary reading:

  • Harkness, Deborah. The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007)
  • Henry, John. The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002)
  • Hunter, Michael. Science and Society in Restoration England (Cambridge: CUP, 1981)
  • Jardine, Lisa. Francis Bacon, Discovery and the Art of Discourse (London, CUP, 1974)
  • Johns, Adrian. The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (Chicago, Ill. University of Chicago Press, 1998)
  • Shapin, Steven, and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989)
  • Spiller, Elizabeth. Science, Reading and Renaissance Literature: the Art of Making Knowledge, 1580-1670 (Cambridge: CUP, 2004)
  • Swann, Marjorie. Curiosities and Texts: the Culture of Collecting in Early Modern England (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2001)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

science, knowledge, Royal Society, experiment, satire, science fiction

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