The Department of the History of Science offers a comprehensive graduate program leading to the AM and PhD degrees. We are one of the world’s leading institutions for producing the next generation of professional historians of science, training students to examine the development of science through a course of study that lays a broad foundation for teaching and research across the field. Our faculty and students employ historical, textual, ethnographic, and social scientific methods 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, as well as to ask larger questions about how the various sciences work in practice and 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, the psychological sciences, medicine, and public health. Together we form a lively interdisciplinary community of scholars.
Graduate students select courses in history of science and history as well as in 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.
Our 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.
Our programs are exciting and intellectually demanding, and our graduate student community is stimulating and diverse. We welcome international students, and in recent years have admitted applicants from many countries, including South Korea, Vietnam, China, Egypt, Ghana, Great Britain, India, Romania, Israel, Germany, Mexico, and Canada.
Master of Arts (AM)
The department offers admission to a very few select students seeking the free-standing AM degree. External applicants for the degree may be considered on a case-by-case basis; it is expected they will be in fulltime residence. Students who have been accepted to pursue an AM include those pursuing a PhD in another Harvard department, advanced degree candidates at foreign universities, and students with a PhD in another field, from Harvard or elsewhere.
To pursue advanced work in the field, it is desirable to have some preliminary training in the natural or social sciences and in history. No application to the Department of the History of Science will be considered complete unless accompanied by a sample of the student’s recent written work (e.g., term paper, senior thesis, master’s essay). Writing samples should be uploaded when completing the online application.
While our faculty invite prospective students to contact them with questions about graduate study in the department, it is not necessary to visit the department to apply for admission to the graduate program. We are not set up to accommodate formal visits from prospective students, but can, on a limited basis, accommodate requests from applicants for brief meetings with faculty with whom 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.