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Undergraduate Course

Autumn, 1999

THE Museum’s major commitment to University teaching – the M. Sc. course on the history of instruments, museums, science and technology – has been suspended for the current academic year because both the building and the collection are inaccessible.

However, the Museum has joined with the Faculty of Modern History to launch a first-year undergraduate course. The course title is ‘Gunpowder, Compass, and Printing Press: Technology and Society in Renaissance and Early Modern Europe’. Topics dealt with include warfare and fortification, navigation and map-making, and engravings and printed books. These saw dramatic innovations in the period 1450-1600 that were part of the wider process of military, commercial, and cultural change. The course asks how this came about, what facilitated and what limited these instances of technological success, and how their effects should be evaluated.

The set documents for the course include some in the familiar form of passages from printed texts. Also included are images (prints, charts, and maps) and artefacts (gunnery instruments, astrolabes and globes) taken from collections in Oxford libraries and from the Museum. A further novelty is that the material is made available to students via the Internet, a characteristic appropriate, perhaps, to a course named after the three traditional icons of innovation of late-Renaissance Europe.