HISTORY 301 covers the growth of our knowledge of the history, present structure, and future of the universe as men and women astronomers, physicists, and mathematicians have uncovered it in the last four or five generations. Your great-grandparents lived in a small, cozy, well-ordered universe, with pleasant neighbors, wistful vistas, and the certainty that they were in the cockpit of history. We live in an immense, active, explosive universe, and we are not even sure that ours is the only one. In this course we shall traverse the path of discovery together.
The sole prerequisite for this course is intellectual curiosity: no math, science, or technical training beyond what you had when you completed the eleventh grade.
We will learn through lecture, weekly class discussions, reading the works of great men and women scientists, and making our own sense of the evidence that they saw. Because the universe is a pretty spectacular place, we will spend a lot of time looking at images and watching the scientist at work. Your grade will depend on two exams and a final examination. Let me remind you: this is a history, not a science course, and no special training is required or recommended. Ours is the very human story of a growing understanding of the history and future of the universe. Thus we will read not only about scientific advance but about the men and women themselves, usually in their own words.
Among the topics we shall discuss are: amateurs as leaders in science, science as a reflection of the business community, the developing roles of women in science, scientific advance as a result of technological growth, the discovery of the expanding universe, the growth of “big science,” Einstein as an icon of the twentieth century, science at war, the Bomb, UFOs, responses to “black holes” and “dark energy,” and public responses to scientific advances in general.