Show/hide main menu

Level 7

7AAH8007 Science, War and the Nation: Britain 1900-2000

Credit value20
Module convenor/tutor 2019/20Professor David Edgerton
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour weekly seminars
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 4,000-word essay (100%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years. 

This module aims to answer the question: what has been the role of what are called ‘science’ and ‘technology’ in twentieth-century British history? How does consideration of the history of science and technology affect our understanding of the British elite, the empire, industrial development, ideology and politics. The module reflects the historiography of the last twenty years which has radically changed our understating of the nature of modern Britain not least by demonstrating the significance of science and technology to the power of its state, its business and its empire. The module introduces students to some of key concepts for the study of twentieth-century Britain, such as decline and the welfare state from a fresh perspective, and students will get an insight into the development of the historiography of twentieth century Britain.

Provisional teaching plan

  • Declinism, Technocracy, and the historiography of invention and expertise in 20th century Britain David Edgerton, ‘Science and the Nation’; Ortolano, The Two Cultures Controversy (2009)
  • Free Trade, Free Enterprise and Research Sabine Clarke, ‘Pure Science with a Practical Aim: The Meanings of Fundamental Research in Britain, c.1916-1950’, Isis Vol. 101, no. 2 (2010): 285-311
  • The Great War Keith Vernon, “Science and Technology,” in The First World War in British History (London: Arnold, 1995), ed. Stephen Constantine, Maurice Kirby and Mary Rose
  • Empire and Imperial Development Timothy Mitchell.  Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity (2002).
  • Second World War David Edgerton, Britain’s War Machine (2011).
  • Autarky and techno-nationalism Edgerton Warfare State: Britain 1920-1970  (2005)
  • Cold War Ralph Desmarais, ‘ Jacob Bronowski: a humanist intellectual for an atomic age, 1946–1956’. The British Journal for the History of Science, 45, pp 573-589
  • The White Heat Edgerton Warfare State: Britain 1920-1970 (2005)
  • Declinism revisited Correlli Barnett, The Audit of War (1985)
  • Thatcher and Science Adrian Johns Death of a pirate: British radio and the making of the information age (2010). David Edgerton and Kirsty Hughes, ‘The Poverty of Science: A Critical Analysis of Scientific and Industrial Policy Under Mrs Thatcher’, Public Administration. 67 (1989), pp. 419-33

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these texts is not mandatory

  • Correlli Barnett, The Audit of War: the Illusion and Reality of Britain as a Great Nation (1986)
  • J.D. Bernal, The Social Function of Science (1939)
  • David Edgerton, Science, Technology and the British Industrial 'Decline' 1870-1970 (1996)
  • David Edgerton, Warfare State: Britain 1920-1970 (2005)
  • C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1959)
  • Guy Ortolano, The Two Cultures Controversy: Science, Literature and Cultural Politics in Postwar Britain (2009)
  • Peder Anker, Imperial Ecology: Environmental Order in the British Empire, 1895-1945 (2001)
  • Julian Hodge, Triumph of the expert: Agrarian doctrines of development and the legacies of British Colonialism (2007)
  • Helen Tilly, Africa as a Living Laboratory (2011)
  • Gyan Prakash, Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India (Princeton, 1999)
  • Timothy Mitchell. Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity (2002)


programme regulationsfor PGT History degrees
student handbookfor the department of History
Sitemap Site help Terms and conditions  Privacy policy  Accessibility  Modern slavery statement  Contact us

© 2020 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454