Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 26, 2023

Major combines history and technology

By MUHAMMAD ABIDI | February 27, 2020

History helps us learn from the successes and failures of the past to direct our actions for the future. 

Perhaps this is the most important aspect of historical analysis and its fundamental purpose — as our future is decided by our current actions, and those actions are based, in part, on past experiences. It is this approach that defines the History of Science, Medicine and Technology major at Hopkins. 

The major is the result of a collaboration between the History of Science and Technology department on the Homewood campus and the History of Medicine department at the School of Medicine.

In an interview with The News-Letter, the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the major, Joris Mercelis, detailed the principal aims of the program. 

“It is important to realize that advances in technology are not separate from the historical context in which they were made,” he said.

This is especially evident as advances in science are often influenced by the needs of the time, and these advances often define the trajectory for subsequent discoveries.

At Hopkins, undergraduates can start the major or learn more about it by taking the survey courses. Courses include History of Medicine, History of Modern Medicine and the Rise of Science. These survey classes help instill the foundational skills needed to write analytical essays and to read and analyze primary and secondary historical sources.

He also emphasized the close-knit nature of the department and small class sizes. 

“While the survey courses may be a bit larger, the upper-level courses in the major are often capped at 19 or 15 students, providing for rich discussion and developing connections with other students,” he noted. 

Mercelis also discussed how students can find expertise in almost any subject area in the department. Professors often specialize in specific regions or time periods of scientific innovation, and thus their combined research efforts allow for students to have a large array of options when conducting research or taking classes in specialized areas.

Outside of classes, students have the option to conduct research in the field through funded opportunities such as the Dean’s ASPIRE Grant and the Provost’s Undergraduate Research Award, as well as a directed honors thesis. As with many majors at Hopkins, the department enables students to craft and pursue their own research project.

Many students in the major continue education through medical school or dental school, while many others join the workforce in directing policy in science. Some also become journalists specializing in science reporting, while others go to graduate school to earn a PhD in history.

Regardless of the field that students pursue after graduation, the major helps develop the necessary creative thinking and analytical writing skills that are needed in any profession.

“The skills and thinking approaches developed through the major are valuable for any future endeavors,” Mercelis said.

Understanding history is an eternal endeavor, but it is the constant findings and realization from this path of study that thus helps form our vision for the future of society. The History of Science, Medicine and Technology major allows for students to follow this path of academic analysis in the specialized context of historical innovations in science.

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