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History of Science: 1700–1900

Blending history with science, this series cuts across scientific disciplines to show you the spirit of excitement and exploration from the Enlightenment through the 19th century.
History of Science: 1700-1900 is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 33.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Long Way Home I was at great pains to give a final rating to this course. On the one hand, it was comprehensive (almost to a fault). Professor Gregory's approach was surely earnest, but this effort might easily have been wrapped up in 24 lectures. What should have been cream tasted more like milk and water. The science gave way unnecessarily to prevailing ideas of philosophy and religion, which I found to have thrown this course off the rails. While I found the course to have merit, it would have been better to experience it as an audiobook rather than a video experience, particularly since, in these days, the teleprompter is king. The course is, moreover, more history than science and begins to lose itself in the weeds. I prefer both Professor Principe's and Professor Goldman's iterations of this science series.
Date published: 2023-09-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A tedious slog I loved Lawrence Principe’s History of Science from Antiquity to 1700 but found this course a rather tedious slog. Prof. Gregory is obviously very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his subject, but in my opinion the course suffered from many defects. Individual lectures don’t flow terribly well; Professor Gregory often obsesses over certain details without explaining its importance in a wider historical context or progression. Similarly, the individual lectures don’t always relate well to one another; he seems to pick disparate subjects that interest him. Professor Gregory does not “set the scene” by explaining the underlying scientific principals he wishes to cover in each lecture. Nor does he use anecdotes effectively to explain broader themes and trends. I would not recommend this course.
Date published: 2023-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific course This course and "Science and Religion" are a great combination. They provide wonderful perspective on how human understanding of the universe has progressed over the millennia while illuminating that scientific journey with the spiritual one.
Date published: 2020-05-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Plodding and tedious; misses forest for the trees Most everyone on here seems to love this course. I don't see it. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with my interests. The questions I was most interested in were the following. How did natural philosophy evolve into the science found at the turn of the century? How did early scientists or late natural philosophers think about questions that were eventually given more definitive answers by, say, 20th century scientists? I wanted Professor Gregory to put their thinking in context and explain it so that we could understand what their questions and assumptions were and how they led to the answers they gave. And if any of that is unfamiliar to us in the 21st century, as much of it will be, then please help us understand it. So I had more of an intellectual history interest. Alas, I was disappointed. (I shut the course off 1/3 of the way through--which I think I've only done with one other lecturer in maybe 40-50 courses--so take that into consideration in reading this.) Two main complaints. First, his lectures tend to be blow by blow accounts of how some person or group of people came to some discovery with very little connecting the events to larger developments before or after. A good example is the lecture on electricity that talked about Ben Franklin. He must have spent 5-10 minutes explaining an experiment where the experimenter is touching a glass bottle that's been charged and this produces some kind of effect. Then others try to reproduce the experiment and fail because the first experimenter made some error (given a widely-held assumption at the time) but failed to mention this in his experimental setup--all those tedious details but no simple explanation in 21st century physics terms of what was going on and nothing about why this was significant. (When he does connect something with a larger context, it's very brief.) He talks about the theory that was developed as well. Basically, electricity was thought to be some kind of "imponderable fluid". Some thought there were two types. Ben Franklin thought there was one. All that, which I remember the day after listening, but nothing about how this leads to later theory. My second complaint is about his lecture style. (I suppose this is largely subjective, but I mention it for others like me.) This is tough to articulate, but I'll give it a shot. There are two lecture styles on opposite ends of a spectrum. One I'd call the "affected" style and the other "conversational". (Allen Guelzo and Robert Greenberg are supreme examples of the first. Both really pull it off! Mark Muesse is the worst example, IMO, and Robert Sapolsky is an excellent conversational lecture.) Professor Gregory is the affected style, and I find him unbearable. If you're lecturing like this then you're not speaking like you would in a conversation with someone. You're self-consciously speaking to a group of people rather than speaking like you would to one person. Both can be effective, but the affected style relies more on verbal cadence as well as tension and anticipation, deliberately constructed with the voice. I guess when Gregory is doing this I just find it unmoving and unconvincing. I kept thinking, "Yeah, ok, just get to the point!" This is probably related to my first complaint, though, in that he's just talking about important events in detail that seems unimportant. I had high expectations for this course after finishing Professor Lawrence Principe's course on history of science from antiquity to 1700, which I thought was excellent. So I'm disappointed, and disappointed to be disappointed.
Date published: 2019-01-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A great presentation of a limited range of topics I thought i knew too much about the history of science to get much from this course when i went in, but i learned a lot about how theories and science itself developed over this period. Sadly, there are a lot of important areas that get overlooked (the rise of cell and germ theory and most 19th century chemistry). I can't really fault the course since the subject area is so wide it had to be picky with what it covered, and it chose to go very in depth on a few topics (like evolution) rather than be a broader overview. Still, i feel it would've been better if it had spent less time on some topics (perhaps by having 1 lecture on the social and religious impact of darwin, rather than 3?) to make room for these other topics. If you know what you're getting going in (mostly newton and darwin) this wont be an issue.
Date published: 2018-08-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from History of Science I would like to rate this much higher than a 3. Professor Gregory is the most engaging lecturer of the 25 + courses that I have listened to. It is only because he is so interesting to listen to that I listened to most of the lectures. But the course was a disappointment. It should be titled the History of the Philosophy of Science. It's long on philosophy, short on science. Further, it ends with the beginning of the 20th century and never resolves a question that the 19th century scientists were debating namely, the nature of the "ether" through which light and magnetism travel.
Date published: 2018-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Follow-Up to Antiquity to 1700 This is the second of three very separate, but related courses on the history of science. The first given by Professor Lawrence Principe covered antiquity to 1700, this one spans the two hundred years between 1700 and 1900 and the third examines science in the twentieth century. Three different lecturers, each taking very different approaches and with slightly differing style, but all equally effective in presentation. This is my first course with Professor Gregory, but it will not be my last. He takes a much more factual approach to the material covered in his two centuries than the course covering antiquity to 1700, which was much more philosophical. This is likely due to the state of science during the later period, as “Natural Philosophy” transitions to science. And Dr. Gregory fashions his course to cover this transition, with roughly the first half of the course devoted to the 18th century, still not really science, moving to the 19th century in the second half of the course, when disciplines became science and those pursing them became known as scientists. As with the earlier course, there is much more than just moving from one scientific advance to another. Professor Gregory spends time discussing how events like the French Revolution impacted not only on society, but science as well. In this transitional period, I particularly loved the discussion of alchemy moving to chemistry and the early discoveries and experiments with electricity. This period was so rich with the beginnings of so many disciplines (earth sciences and biology to mention but two), that even with 36 lectures there seemed not enough time to cover everything. Naturally we get Darwin (and his predecessors) and the move from the early ideas about electricity to the more sophisticated ideas about electromagnetism. In this second half, we also get more than pure science, especially as the new discoveries challenge conventional ideas about God and the nature of the universe. A diverse set of lectures indeed. Highly recommended for those with an interest.
Date published: 2017-11-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good lecturer This course covers a good deal of material and I found the lecturer engaging. He knows the material well and knows how to balance explanation of theories and experiments with biographical and historical information and anecdotes. My only complaint is that it would have been worthwhile to explain what was happening in some of the experiments (especially those dealing with electricity) *also* in terms of today's scientific understanding instead of just describing the various ways they were understood in terms of the theories available when they were first performed.
Date published: 2016-09-04
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Blending history with science, this series cuts across scientific disciplines to show you the spirit of excitement and exploration that accompanied the development of science from the Enlightenment through the 19th century. Great thinkers considered issues ranging from weightless matter to the existence of an unsuspected prehistoric world—while contending with demanding pressures from state, church, and culture.


Frederick Gregory

History of science has taught me that scientists remain very human as they strive to be objective. Overcoming personal differences, so vital to our ultimate survival, is as much a challenge for them as it is in politics or religion.


University of Florida

Dr. Frederick Gregory is Professor of History of Science at the University of Florida, where he has taught for 30 years. He holds a B.S. in Mathematics from Wheaton College in Illinois, a B.D. (Bachelor of Divinity) from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, an M.A. in the History of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Ph.D. in the History of Science from Harvard University. Professor Gregory has received numerous grants for research in his field, including an Alexander von Humboldt grant from the German government and a fellowship from the Dibner Institute for the History of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was awarded the 2009 Joseph H. Hazen Education Prize for excellence in education from the History of Science Society. He also won the University of Florida's John Mahon Teaching Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching, as well as the Norman Wilensky Graduate Teaching Award. He has provided commentary for the American production of the television series The Day the Universe Changed. Professor Gregory's research interests have focused on German science in the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly as it reflects the larger cultural setting in which it is embedded. His two-volume undergraduate textbook, Natural Science in Western History, was published in 2008.

By This Professor

Science in the 18th and 19th Centuries

01: Science in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Professor Frederick Gregory begins the course by considering the special challenges facing anyone wishing to understand and learn from the natural sciences of the past, and introducing the major subjects and themes of the course.

33 min
Consolidating Newton's Achievement

02: Consolidating Newton's Achievement

This lecture explains how Newton's theories were received by leading thinkers in France and Germany and describes the events that led to the eventual creation of a worldview that claimed Newton as its hero.

32 min
Theories of the Earth

03: Theories of the Earth

Just as natural philosophers subjected the heavens to the rule of natural law over the course of the 18th century, so too did they scrutinize the Earth and its past with the same intent.

30 min
Grappling with Rock Formations

04: Grappling with Rock Formations

In the 18th century, the scope of German mineralogy expanded to include more than merely the mineral content of the Earth's crust.

30 min
Alchemy under Pressure

05: Alchemy under Pressure

The alchemical understanding concerning the interactions among various material substances was challenged in an attempt to define a rational approach to chemistry.

30 min
Lavoisier and the New French Chemistry

06: Lavoisier and the New French Chemistry

Investigators in Britain, Germany, and France sought to identify the properties of "airs" (gases) and to explore how they interact.

30 min
The Classification of Living Things

07: The Classification of Living Things

The view of living things that 18th-century natural philosophers inherited from their predecessors was challenged in this era.

30 min
How the Embryo Develops

08: How the Embryo Develops

How do embryos of different organisms, which seem in their earliest stages to resemble each other, know how and when to follow different paths to produce different adult forms? We examine the debate over embryonic development.

31 min
Medical Healers and Their Roles

09: Medical Healers and Their Roles

This lecture examines the general understanding of health and disease of the 18th century as well as the bewildering array of medical healers that graced the countryside.

30 min
Mesmerism, Science, and the French Revolution

10: Mesmerism, Science, and the French Revolution

This lecture introduces the theories of Franz Anton Mesmer and details his sensational successes and failures and the reactions to his work, illustrating how natural science is not pursued in a political vacuum.

31 min
Explaining Electricity

11: Explaining Electricity

Natural philosophers began to make real headway in explaining the bewildering phenomena associated with static electricity, with the mysterious force eventually capturing the attention not only of kings but of an astute American named Benjamin Franklin.

30 min
The Amazing Achievements of Galvani and Volta

12: The Amazing Achievements of Galvani and Volta

This lecture examines—and clarifies—the work of the two famous Italian natural philosophers of the late Enlightenment as we look at their debate over the phenomenon of "animal electricity."

30 min
Biology is Born

13: Biology is Born

In the closing years of the 18th century, a fundamentally new view of life arises among natural philosophers, sharply differing with the conception of natural history that had come before.

31 min
Alternative Visions of Natural Science

14: Alternative Visions of Natural Science

The new outlook reflected in the science of biology was one marker of the end of the Enlightenment and the beginning of a new era, and we look at the differing visions offered by thinkers as diverse as Kant, Schelling, and Goethe.

30 min
A World of Prehistoric Beasts

15: A World of Prehistoric Beasts

By comparing the anatomical features of fossil remains, French natural philosopher Georges Cuvier was able to determine the structures and habits of prehistoric beasts and even formulate an important new system of classification.

30 min
Evolution French Style

16: Evolution French Style

During the first two decades of the 19th century, Cuvier's position on natural history did not go unchallenged. Professor Gregory examines the objections raised by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, 25 years Cuvier's senior, including their impact on his own career.

30 min
The Catastrophist Synthesis

17: The Catastrophist Synthesis

This lecture examines the unique route taken by the British to arrive at the controversy over life and its past that was already front and center on the continent.

30 min
Exploring the World

18: Exploring the World

This lecture introduces the explorations of Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin and analyzes the significance of their journeys for the travelers themselves and for the natural science they influenced.

30 min
A Victorian Sensation

19: A Victorian Sensation

In 1844, the anonymous publication of The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation took Britain by storm, sparking debate that contributed to the tumultuous 1840s and helping establish the context in which the subject of evolution entered the British scene.

30 min
The Making of The Origin of Species

20: The Making of The Origin of Species

This lecture follows the path Darwin followed in creating and developing his theory in the years after his voyage, and in producing the hurried compendium we know as The Origin of Species.

31 min
Troubles with Darwin's Theory

21: Troubles with Darwin's Theory

During the first decade after the appearance of Darwin's Origin, a number of scientific difficulties were raised by members of Britain's now organized scientific community.

31 min
Science, Life, and Disease

22: Science, Life, and Disease

As Darwin's Origin appeared in England, another controversy - with religious and political implications - was brewing in France over the origin of life itself, with famous French chemist Louis Pasteur at its center.

30 min
Human Society and the Struggle for Existence

23: Human Society and the Struggle for Existence

After the addition of Darwin's Origin to the ongoing debate over evolution, the claim that humans should draw lessons about their own society from this new knowledge of the natural world was inevitable. But it was possible to derive very different ideas about what form that society should take.

30 min
Whither God?

24: Whither God?

This lecture examines the theological responses to the flourishing of evolutionary theory during the second half of the 19th century, which ranges from outright rejection to warm embrace.

30 min
Forces, Forces Everywhere

25: Forces, Forces Everywhere

This lecture reviews the heritage of 17th- and early 18th-century treatments of motive force, primarily gravitation and the force created by collisions, and goes on to view the impact as natural philosophers uncovered new phenomena associated with heat, electricity, chemical change, magnetism, and light.

31 min
Electromagnetism Changes Everything

26: Electromagnetism Changes Everything

Danish natural philosopher Hans Christian Oersted uncovered the manner in which a magnet is affected by the flow of electric current, paving the way for later discoveries by Ampère and Faraday and the eventual creation of electrical machines that would directly affect society.

30 min
French Insights About Heat

27: French Insights About Heat

Of all the forces of nature, it is the motive force of heat that proved to be one of the most intriguing during the early decades of the 19th century.

30 min
New Institutions of Natural Science

28: New Institutions of Natural Science

The emergence of a middle class public sphere and an increasingly significant role for something called "public opinion" paved the way for the emergence of the "scientist," along with a wider concern for distinguishing natural science's methodology.

31 min
The Conservation of What?

29: The Conservation of What?

In the 1840s the continuing investigation of the interrelationships among nature's forces leads to inquiries not only about the conversion of one kind of force into another but also about the possible creation and destruction of force.

30 min
Culture Wars and Thermodynamics

30: Culture Wars and Thermodynamics

Continuing research into the back and forth interconversions between tensive and motive forces, especially when they involve heat, forced science and religion to seek a delicate balance.

31 min
Scientific Materialism at Mid-Century

31: Scientific Materialism at Mid-Century

This lecture examines a tumultuous period of conflict to which the addition of The Origin of Species in 1859 represented only more fuel to be added to an already raging fire.

31 min
The Mechanics of Molecules

32: The Mechanics of Molecules

This lecture returns to a survey of the knowledge of matter, picking up from discussions of the work of Lavoisier in Lecture 6.

30 min
Astronomical Achievement

33: Astronomical Achievement

This lecture examines the development of our views of the cosmos, including the nebular hypothesis of Pierre Simon Laplace and the role of a remarkable woman named Mary Somerville in translating and making his work accessible in Victorian Britain.

30 min
The Extra-Terrestrial Life Fiasco

34: The Extra-Terrestrial Life Fiasco

The 1793 appearance of Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason ignited a raging debate over the compatibility of life on other worlds with the theology of Christianity.

31 min
Catching Up With Light

35: Catching Up With Light

By the beginning of the 19th century, no consensus had yet emerged about what light might be, a situation that was changed by the establishment of a new wave theory and the work of Thomas Young in 1801 and James Maxwell at mid-century.

30 min
The End of Science?

36: The End of Science?

This lecture examines the growth of the confident, and often overconfident, attitude that appeared among some scientists in the late 19th century, and concludes with two key developments that would challenge this confidence at its very core.

31 min