School of History

Science Satirised - HI6036

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Convenor 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18
Canterbury Spring Intermediate
Intermediate level module taken in stages 2 and 3 of an undergraduate degree
30 (15) Dr R F Higgitt inactive active inactive

The information below applies to the 2015-16 session


By looking at how science and its practitioners have been represented in or made use of satire, we gain an important perspective on how science and society have interacted as the former came to dominance as an authoritative source of knowledge. Friends and enemies of science have used satire to gain sympathy or call its claims into question. Where science has provoked hope, fear, admiration or suspicion, where it has been deeply involved in political or military endeavour, where it has overstated its claims or fed visions of a better future, satire has cast popular and elite opinions into sharp relief. From Thomas Shadwell’s The Virtuoso and Gulliver’s Travels, Georgian and Victorian caricature, science fiction and Cold War film, to The Simpsons and the Infinite Monkey Cage, science and the men and women who have produced it have proved to be fertile sources for comedy and biting wit.

Method of assessment

• One essay based on a primary source (2000 words – 35%). This will ensure deep engagement with and critical examination of the primary sources examined during the course. • Participation in online forums (2000 words total) and seminars discussions (20%). This will ensure a consistent engagement with the seminar readings and development of peer-to-peer learning. • One essay (3000 words – 45%). Through the essay, students learn to research a subject, engage with the historiography, and formulate and present their own opinions.

Preliminary reading

  • • John H. Cartwright and Brian Baker, Literature and Science: Social Impact and Interaction (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2005) • Joseph M Gide, 'Shadwell and the Royal Society', Studies in English Literature 10 (1970), 469-490 • Gregory Lynall, Swift and Science: the Satire, Politics and Theology of Natural Knowledge, 1690-1730 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) • Joseph Levine, Dr Woodward's Shield: History, Science, and Satire in Augustan England (Cornell University Press, 1991) • James A. Secord, ‘Scrapbook science: composite caricatures in late Georgian England’, in Ann B. Shteir and Bernard V. Lightman, Figuring it Out: Science, Gender, and Visual Culture (UPNE, 2006), pp. 164-191 • J.G. Paradis, ‘Satire and science in Victorian culture’, in Bernard Lightman (ed.), Victorian Science in Context (University of Chicago Press, 1997), 143-75 • M.J.S. Rudwick, ‘Caricature as a source for the history of science: De La Beche’s Anti-Lyellian Sketches of 1831’, Isis 66 (1975), 534-60

Learning outcomes

  • 11. The intended subject specific learning outcomes Students participating in this module will: 11.1 Gain knowledge the contested and changing nature of the relationship between science, scientific practitioners and wider publics in Britain and the USA from the late 17th century to the present 11.2 Gain knowledge and a critical understanding of a representative sample of science historiography 11.3 Be introduced to the role of satire in the public sphere and how it can reflect and influences opinion 11.4 Gain an understanding of key themes explored by historians of science in exploring the relationship of science with the public 11.5 Gain an understanding of how the historical methodologies used by historians of science translate into written histories 11.6 Gain critical perspective on how science is portrayed in various media, and to apply these concepts in the classroom and beyond 11.7 Be able to evaluate and make use of a range of written and visual sources for understanding the impact of science on wider culture and vice versa 12. The intended generic learning outcomes Students will have: 12.1 enhanced their ability to express complex ideas and arguments orally and in writing, skills which can be transferred to other areas of study and employment 12.2 enhanced communication, presentational skills and information technology skills 12.3 practice working both independently – for example in preparing for seminars and research and information-gathering for essays – and within groups, being encouraged to interact and cooperate through the forum and within seminars


No pre-requisites

School of History, Rutherford College, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NX

T: +44 (0)1227 823710 or E:

Last Updated: 10/11/2011