This course is discontinued

ENG4417 – Scientific Literature in Early Modern England

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

In this course you will study the development and cultural impact of the new sciences in the period from Francis Bacon (d. 1626) to Isaac Newton (d. 1727). In this period, there was not yet any clear distinction between literature and science writing, and the genres of fiction and non-fiction were still in the making.

You will be considering the natural philosophers’ (or scientists’) use of poetic imagery, as well as their rhetorical strategies to convince the wider public of the benefits of new methods and discoveries.

In addition to such close reading of texts, emphasis will be placed on the social context of science writing, that is, on the various social settings in which experiments took place and findings were communicated. The field of rhetoric of science provides a major theoretical framework, understood as a field of research “that takes classical rhetorical theory as its intellectual tool and the texts of science and science policy as its target of analysis” (Alan G. Gross).

The syllabus may be designed to highlight the works of an individual writer; or a single field (for example, early modern medicine); or a specific topic, such as the role of the Royal Society (established 1660) in furthering English science. Other lines of inquiry may include: the continued influence of magic and superstition; pushback against the new sciences in literary satire as well as from outsiders such as the autodidact poet-philosopher Margaret Cavendish (d. 1673); utopian and quasi-scientific writing.

The course does not assume any previous knowledge of natural sciences or mathematics, as we will only read such texts as are accessible from the perspective of the humanities.

Learning outcome

After completing this course you will have:

  • acquired a better understanding of the interrelationship between science and literature in the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods
  • gained insight into the development and cultural impact of new experimental sciences in England, traditionally conceived in terms of a scientific revolution
  • developed your critical and analytical abilities by engaging closely with a number of texts written mainly by early modern scientists and philosophers, also engaging with recent scholarship in the field of rhetoric of science
  • learned to recognize methods of persuasion in scientific writing
  • developed your skills in historical and cultural analysis


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

Students enrolled in other Master's Degree Programmes can, on application, be admitted to the course if this is cleared by their own study programme.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.

The course has a capacity of 15 students. ILOS will not provide additional capacity if there are more applicants.


Seminar, two hours per week for ten weeks, 20 hours in all.

In addition, there will one group tutorial (1x two hours) to develop your written term paper.

Attendance is obligatory at least 8 out of 10 seminars. Additional absences must be justified by documentation given to the exam coordinator.

You must also give an oral presentation (pass/fail) in order to submit your final paper.


The assessment of the course is based on a term paper of approximately ten pages (4500 words, excluding footnotes/bibliography).

The topic for the term paper will be decided by the teacher and the student together. Students are expected to work on the paper throughout the semester.

You will be given an opportunity to submit a draft of your paper and receive individual feedback on both the form and content.

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit assignments in Inspera.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

The examination text is given in English, and you submit your response in English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Reports from periodic evaluations (in Norwegian)

Facts about this course






This course is offered irregularly


This course is offered irregularly

Teaching language