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  • Term Mode
  • Semester 2Campus Attendance



Unit rationale, description and aim

Set against the backdrop of the accumulated scientific knowledge of the ancient and medieval worlds, this unit will explore the origins, development and impact of modern science from the Scientific Revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through to the Einsteinian revolution of the early twentieth century, and beyond. Through engagement with exemplary scientific works such as Copernicus' On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Bacon's New Organon and Darwin's Origins of the Species, students will consider how, why and with what consequences western understanding of the natural world has changed over the last 500 years, and the ways science has interacted with and influenced society, culture and religion the world over. Students will also engage with other traditions that have informed the development of scientific thinking in western culture, including Islamic scientific advances of the medieval period and after.

The aim of this unit is to deepen students' understanding of the centrality of science to the development of western society and culture since the early modern era.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

Learning Outcome NumberLearning Outcome DescriptionRelevant Graduate Capabilities
LO1Identify key developments in, and major debates surrounding, the history of science since c.1500GC1, GC3, GC4, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC10, GC11, GC12
LO2Analyse, evaluate and contextualise major scientific works in a humanities contextGC1, GC3, GC4, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC10, GC11, GC12
LO3Locate, interrogate and synthesise information from a range of primary and secondary sources to investigate a particular event, period, theme, or issue in the history of science since c. 1500, and communicate findings with sophisticationGC1, GC3, GC4, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC10, GC11, GC12
LO4Apply knowledge and skills to formulate intellectually-grounded, evidence-based judgments about the history of science since c.1500GC1, GC2, GC3, GC4, GC6, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC10, GC11, GC12


Topics will normally include: 

  • Scientific knowledge in the ancient and medieval worlds 
  • The origins and nature of the Scientific Revolution in Western Europe 
  • Debating the Scientific Revolution 
  • Scientific advances in the 18th and 19th centuries 
  • The Einsteinian Revolution 
  • Modern medicine in the twentieth century 
  • Science and religion  
  • Science, race and empire 
  • Science and art 
  • Non-western and Indigenous knowledge of the natural world 
  • Science and women 
  • Climate science and social debate 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit will be taught face-to-face in small groups with a Socratic method of teaching that encourages participatory learning and discussion. The unit will employ two formal methods of learning and teaching: lectures and seminars. Lectures are designed to introduce students to key developments, themes, interpretations and debates relating to the history of science, and to the great scientific works that lie at the heart of the unit. In this way, lectures will also establish a framework appropriate for independent student learning. Seminars are intended to provide students with a supportive peer-to-peer learning environment in which they can engage meaningfully with the textual case studies chosen for the unit. Students consolidate their understanding, knowledge, analytical and communication skills through rigorous debate with other students and staff. Seminars may take a variety of forms, all of which provide different learning opportunities, including: working in pairs to share ideas; working in small groups for quick analysis, debate and identification of the most relevant and salient information; opportunities to brainstorm; opportunities to participate in whole group discussions; opportunities to learn through informal presentations.


This is a 10-credit point unit and has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities and assessments utilised in this unit. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support learning such as reading, reflection, discussion, webinars, podcasts, video etc.

Assessment strategy and rationale

To help students to understand the importance of science to the development of western society and culture since c. 1500, it is essential that they acquire a knowledge of key developments in, and major debates surrounding, its history. The Knowledge Development Task allows students to develop, apply and demonstrate such foundational knowledge.


Third-year students are expected to be able to apply high-level undergraduate skills in their work. The Research Task gives students the opportunity to demonstrate their independent research skills, including locating, analysing, contextualising and synthesising a range of primary and secondary sources, presented as an evidence-based argument on a particular aspect of the history of science since c. 1500.


The BA (Western Civilisation) aims to encourage students to think flexibly and creatively, transferring and applying learning from one context to another. Students at the end of this unit should have the knowledge and skills to be able to connect themes, debates and events discussed over the course of the unit. The Summative Task gives students the opportunity to apply such knowledge and skills in answering a question, or questions, relating to the unit as a whole.


The assessment tasks for this unit have been designed to contribute to high quality student learning by both helping students learn (assessment for learning), and by measuring explicit evidence of their learning (assessment of learning). Assessments have been developed to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. These have been designed so that they use a variety of tasks to measure the different learning outcomes at a level suitable for third-year studies of Western Civilisation.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning Outcomes

Knowledge Development Task. This task requires students to read and discuss a selection of texts relating to the history of science since c. 1500.



Research Task. This task requires students to use a range of primary and secondary sources to construct an evidence-based written response to a set question relating to a particular aspect of the history of science since c. 1500.


LO2, LO3, LO4

Summative Task. This task requires students to use knowledge and skills acquired or developed over the course of the unit to answer a question or series of questions relating to the unit as a whole.


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

Representative texts and references

Alexander, D. R., and R. L. Numbers eds. Biology and Ideology from Descartes to Dawkins. Chicago; Chicago University Press, 2010.

Bala, A. The Dialogue of Civilizations in the Birth of Modern Science. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Bowles, P.J., and I. R. Morus. Making Modern Science: A Historical Survey. 2nd edition. Chicago: Chicago University Press 2020.

Brooke, J. H. Science and ReligionSome Historical Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Ede, A., and L. B. Cormack eds. A History of Science in Society: From the Scientific Revolution to the Present. 3rd edition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017.

Henry, J. The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science. 3rd edition. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Kuhn, T. S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 4th edition. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2012.

Laudine, C. Aboriginal Environmental Knowledge. Farnham: Ashgate, 2009.

Le Fanu, J. The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine. 2nd edition. London: Hachette, 2011.

Shapin, S. The Scientific Revolution. 2nd edition. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2018.

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