HUM-402 / 3 credits

Teacher: Mihailescu Ion-Gabriel

Language: English

Remark: Une seule inscription à un cours SHS+MGT autorisée. En cas d'inscriptions multiples elles seront toutes supprimées sans notification.


The course allows students to learn by doing about the history of science, and the role played by experimentation, technical skills or material objects in the production of knowledge. Students will explore these topics by reconstructing a historical experiment, instrument or practice.


The first half of the first semester will introduce students to what it means to reconstruct a historical experiment, instrument or practice. The goal of the historical reconstructions is not to replicate a known result (as in a science lab), but rather to obtain some novel or better knowledge about the past (which could not be obtained by simply reading a book). In the second part of the first semester students will work in groups to choose and research the most interesting and promising topics for a project. The best projects are those that raise some interesting historical questions, or that promise to provide some interesting historical insights. At the end of the first semester, students will present their project proposal and submit a written report. The second semester is dedicated to the actual historical reconstruction.


Past Projects

  1. The reconstruction of experiments: Eratosthenes's measurement of the radius of the Earth; the Cavendish experiment for determining the density of the Earth; Foucault's pendulum experiment for demonstrating the rotation of the Earth; Young's double slit experiment; Hertz's experiment for the detection of electromagnetic waves; Fizeau's experiment for measuring the speed of light; Pictet's experiment on the radiation and reflection of cold; the Doppler effect; Lissajous's figures.
  2. The reconstruction of instruments: a cloud chamber for visualizing cosmic rays; Volta's batteries; Franklin's Leyden Jars; a camera obscura; a 3D model of a 14th-century astronomical clock.
  3. The reconstruction of past practices and techniques: cyanotype paper and technical drawing techniques; a comparison of pre-industrial and industrial soap making techniques; the chemical reconstruction of the perfumes of Julius Caesar and Henry VIII.



Week 1. Introduction

Part 1. Reconstructing Experiments

Week 2. Joule's experiment for measuring the mechanical equivalent of heat

Week 3. Newton's experimentum crucis

Part 2. Reconstructing Instruments and Machines

Week 4. The solar microscope

Week 5. Leonardo Da Vinci's robots

Part 3. Reconstructing Recipes and Techniques

Week 6. Newton the alchemist

Week 7. Matter, materiality, materials

Part 4. Practical Work

Week 8. Brainstorming on the project

Week 9. Lab work: scientific instruments

Week 10. Project Workshop

Week 11. Project Workshop

Week 12. Project Workshop

Part 5. Presentations

Week 13. Presentation of Project Proposals

Week 14. Presentation of Project Proposals



re-enactment, past experiments, learning by doing, history of science, practices, artefacts, tacit knowledge

POLY-perspective :

  • creative perspective
  • interdisciplinary perspective

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, the student must be able to:

  • Identify important research questions in the history of science.
  • Formulate a problematic and hypothesis.
  • Analyze historical sources.
  • Interpret historical artefacts.
  • Assess / Evaluate the tacit and technical skills involved in the production of knowledge.
  • Critique historical accounts and their own scientific skills and practice.
  • Construct an argument

Transversal skills

  • Communicate effectively with professionals from other disciplines.
  • Assess progress against the plan, and adapt the plan as appropriate.
  • Access and evaluate appropriate sources of information.

Teaching methods

The course relies on the teaching method of learning by doing. We consider this to be a particularly appropriate method for imparting knowledge about the history of science.

Fall semester: lecture, discussion, presentation and practical work.

Expected student activities

Students are expected to attend lectures and the practical workshops, read the assigned articles, and participate actively to discussions. Students will prepare a presentation and a written report of their proposal for the Spring semester project.

Assessment methods

Independent evaluation at the end of both the autumn and spring term (grade associated to 3 ECTS).

Autumn term:

  • Discussion (20%)
  • Presentation of Project Proposal (40%)
  • Written Project Proposal (40%)


Office hours Yes
Assistants No
Forum Yes



  • Sibum, Heinz Otto.œ"Reworking the Mechanical Value of Heat: Instruments of Precision and Gestures of Accuracy in Early Victorian England". Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 26, no. 1 (1995): 73-106.
  • Schaffer, Simon. "Glass Works: Newton's Prisms and the Uses of Experiment". In The Uses of Experiment: Studies in the Natural Sciences, edited by David Gooding, Trevor Pinch, and Simon Schaffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989, pp. 67-104.
  • Heering, Peter. "The Enlightened Microscope: Re-Enactment and Analysis of Projections with Eighteenth-Century Solar Microscopes". British Journal for the History of Science, 41 (2008): 345-368.
  • Rosheim, Mark E. Leonardo's Lost Robots. Berlin: Springer, 2006, pp. 21-68.
  • Newman, William R. "The Shadow of a Noble Experiment: Newton's Laboratory Records to 1696". In Newton the Alchemist: Science, Enigma, and the Quest for Nature's Secret Fire. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019, pp. 296-318.
  • Smith, Pamela H. "Vermilion, Mercury, Blood, and Lizards: Matter and Meaning in Metalworking". In Klein, Ursula and Emma C. Spary (eds.), Materials and Expertise in Early Modern Europe: Between Market and Laboratory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010, pp. 29-49.

Ressources en bibliothèque

Références suggérées par la bibliothèque

Moodle Link


In the programs

  • Semester: Fall
  • Number of places: 30
  • Exam form: During the semester (winter session)
  • Subject examined: Experimental history of science I
  • Lecture: 2 Hour(s) per week x 14 weeks
  • Project: 1 Hour(s) per week x 14 weeks
  • Type: mandatory

Reference week

Related courses

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