This subject traces the evolution of ideas about nature, and how best to study and explain natural phenomena, beginning in ancient times and continuing through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. A central theme of the subject is the intertwining of conceptual and institutional relations within diverse areas of inquiry: cosmology, natural history, physics, mathematics, and medicine.


As a HASS CI Subject, there will be a heavy emphasis upon writing and oral communication. There will be three papers assigned for a total of 20-24 pages of writing over the course of the semester. The first paper (4-5 pp.) will be due in class on the day of session #6. The second paper (6-7 pp.) will be due in class on the day of session #15. The second paper will be revised and resubmitted on the day of session #20, so that students will have an opportunity to work on specific writing skills before preparing the final paper. The final paper (10-12 pp.) will be due in class on the day of session #25. Students will also take turns making prepared oral presentations for the recitation sections. Presentations for recitation section will involve a summary of assigned readings and presentation of study questions pertinent to that week's material. The student will then lead the ensuing discussion for the remainder of that week's recitation section, based on his or her opening presentation. In addition to these written and oral communication assignments, there will be an in-class midterm on the day of session #12. No late papers will be accepted.


Written and oral communication performance will account for 80% of the final grade. Note that HASS CI subjects fulfill Phase One of the MIT Writing Requirement for juniors and seniors. Students must receive a grade of B- or better in order to pass Phase One.

Your final grade will be based on:
Paper 1 (20%);
Paper 2 (20%);
Paper 3 (25%);
Midterm (20%);
Participation in recitation sections (including oral presentation) (15%).


Reading assignments should be completed before each lecture. The following books are required, in addition to course study materials:

Lindberg, David C. The Beginnings of Western Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Cohen, I. Bernard, and Richard S. Westfall, eds. Newton: Texts, Backgrounds, Commentaries. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.