This interdisciplinary history of biology course is aimed at introducing (or reintroducing) science students to the forgotten or overlooked seminal literature of their discipline, and also consider these original papers in wider social, cultural, intellectual, and historical contexts. Specifically, it considers the seminal discoveries about the molecule we now call DNA and consider to carry the blueprint of a living organism if not life itself. Over the course of the semester, the class will cover six important nodes in the history of discoveries around DNA from 1871 when the substance was discovered or identified, until 1944, when it was first suggested that DNA might function as the physicochemical basis of heredity.


This interdisciplinary history of science seminar course was partly modelled on the liberal arts “Great Books” tradition of teaching the history of civilisation through world literature. But because the fundamental literature  of science, especially modern science, exists in the form of research papers rather than books, the course may be better described as one about “Great Papers”. Each seminal paper or discovery account will be juxtaposed with a secondary reading, drawn from The history, philosophy or social studies of science, that helps set the original discovery in different intellectual, cultural and social contexts. 

The classes will be run as seminars or journal-club-like sessions, in which all the participants will be expected to participate actively in classroom discussions. Besides having chosen the bulk of the papers, my own role in the course will be mainly to facilitate or moderate the discussion sessions.

Instructor:  Neeraja Sankaran

Schedule: Thursdays - 3.30 to 5.00pm

Venue: Chloroplast