The Department of the History of Science is a lively interdisciplinary community of scholars and students who are interested in making historical sense of the natural sciences, broadly understood. Our faculty and students employ historical, textual, ethnographic, and social scientific methods to ask larger questions about how the various sciences work in practice, the basis of their authority, how ethical and political decisions are made about their regulation and applications, how they relate to larger intellectual, cultural, social, and political trends and changes, and much more. Faculty and student interests span medieval to contemporary times, and engage the full range of sciences: physics, astronomy, molecular biology, evolutionary theory, technology, brain and behavioral science, medicine, public health, and more.
The department offers comprehensive graduate programs leading to AM and PhD degrees in the history of science. We are one of the world’s leading institutions for training the next generation of professional historians of science. These programs train students to examine the development of science through a course of study that lays a broad foundation for teaching and research in fields that include the history of the natural and social sciences, behavioral and brain sciences, technology, mathematics, medicine, and allied health sciences. Methods of historical research are employed to explore the genesis and evolution of the sciences and to analyze the growth of science as part of the intellectual and social experience of humankind. To pursue advanced work in the field, therefore, it is desirable to have some preliminary training in the natural or social sciences and in history. Our programs are exciting and also intellectually demanding.
In addition to courses in history, history of science, and the sciences, students select courses from fields such as philosophy, government, literature, sociology, anthropology, law, and public policy. Courses in the Program on Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology may be taken by cross-registration, as may courses in Science, Technology, and Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. PhD students may also choose to pursue a secondary field such as critical media practice; studies of women, gender, and sexuality; film and visual studies; or science, technology, and society.
Graduate students are encouraged to engage with the department’s Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, which is one of the largest and richest university collections in the world. These objects represent a broad range of periods and scientific disciplines, including astronomy, navigation, horology, surveying, geology, calculating, physics, biology, medicine, psychology, electricity, and communication. Many departmental courses have a component that uses the collections and students may participate in the curating of special exhibitions; several of our recent PhD graduates have gone on to careers in museum work.
The department’s graduate student community is stimulating and diverse, and welcomes international students; in recent years we have admitted applicants from many countries, including Taiwan, China, Great Britain, India, Romania, Israel, Germany, Mexico, and Canada. Our faculty welcome prospective students to contact them with questions about graduate study in the department.
Master of Arts (AM)
The department does not currently run a formal master’s degree program. External students seeking a master’s degree in the history of science may be considered on a case-by-case basis, as long as they are conducting study in residence full-time. Students who may be accepted to study for a master’s degree include those pursuing a PhD in another Harvard department and students who are advanced degree candidates at foreign universities. In exceptional cases, faculty may invite students to complete a master’s degree as a possible first step towards entering the PhD program.
No application to the Department of the History of Science will be considered complete unless accompanied by a recent sample of the student’s written work (e.g., term paper, senior thesis, master’s essay). Writing samples should be submitted electronically with the online application.
It is not necessary to visit the department to apply for admission to the graduate program, and we are not set up to accommodate formal visits from prospective students. However, on a limited basis, we can accommodate requests from applicants for brief meetings with faculty with whom they are they are interested in working. If you will be in the Boston area, please contact individual faculty members well in advance.
More information is available from the Department of the History of Science, including videos of faculty and students. Access the GSAS Student Handbook to learn more about program requirements for the MA and PhD degrees.