28115 - History of Technological Innovation (1) (2nd cycle)

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

Lectures and teaching materials aim at providing students with an understanding of biotechnologies in historical perspective, focusing especially on their connections with: 1) the life sciences, and, 2), the cultural, institutional and economic contexts. A cross-disciplinary approach is encoraged.

Course contents


Artificial life?

The technologies of life from Darwin to gene editing

We shall introduce and discuss the technologies of life developed over the past few years, focusing especially on “artificial life” and “gene editing”, that promise to become comparatively easy techniques allowing to modify our own genetic makeup. We shall address the new technologies adopting the vantage point offered by a survey of the notion of “life as technology” as it developed from the times of Charles Darwin’s Origin of species (1859) to the present.

Adopting a long-term historical perspective, and paying due attention to the cultural, social and political contexts, we shall pursue an assessment going beyond the usual dichotomy between the uncritical celebration of technological achievements, and their dismissal on moral grounds. The goal is to develop, with the help of the students, new perspectives on the typical dilemma facing technologically advanced societies: the dilemma between freedom and regulation.

Excerpts from classical texts in the history of biology focusing on the notion of “life as technology” will be made available through the e-learning website of the course (https://iol.unibo.it/; password available in class or writing to: giuliano.pancaldi@unibo.it. Texts by Charles Darwin, Herman Joseph Muller, Julian Huxley, J.B.S. Haldane, Aldous Huxley, Erwin Schrödinger, Francis Crick, Jacques Monod, Richard Dawkins, and Craig Venter will be included.

In the same website students will find a number of teaching modules explaining the main recent innovations in the field of the life sciences. The website will host also the papers submitted and discussed in class by students on topics of their choice, connected with the main themes of the course.


Students are expected to study the online teaching modules with excerpts from classical texts in the history of biology developing the notion of “life as technology”, from Darwin to the present day.  For details about the website write to: giuliano.pancaldi@unibo.it

In addition to these materials, during the exam students will be asked to report on their reading of one of the following books (many of them are available also in English): 

Erwin Schrödinger, Che cos’è la vita? La cellula vivente dal punto di vista fisico, Adelphi 1995

Jacques Monod, Il caso e la necessità. Saggio sulla filosofia naturale della biologia contemporanea, Mondadori 2017

Richard Dawkins, Il gene egoista. La parte immortale di ogni essere vivente, Mondadori 2013

Siddhartha Mukherjee, Il gene. Il viaggio dell’uomo al centro della vita, Mondadori 2016

Anna Meldolesi, E l’uomo creò l’uomo. CRISPR e la rivoluzione dell’editing genomico, Bollati Boringhieri 2017

Helga Nowotny e Giuseppe Testa, Geni a nudo, Ripensare l’uomo nel XXI secolo, Codice 2012

Marcello Buiatti, Le biotecnologie. L’ingegneria genetica fra biologia, etica e mercato, Il Mulino 2004

Sergio Pistoi, Il DNA incontra Facebook. Viaggio nel supermarket della genetica, Marsilio 2012

Baroukh M. Assael, Il gene del diavolo. Le malattie genetiche, le loro metafore, il sogno e la paura di eliminarle, Bollati Boringhieri 2016

Teaching methods

Active participation by students is encouraged, both in the form of frequent questions during lectures, and as papers or reports to be presented and discussed in class. Materials examined in class will be made available through the course's website.

Lectures' timetable:

M, T, W, 13:00-15:00, Aula C, Via Zamboni 34, from 28 January 2019.

Assessment methods

The final exam will consist in an interview (about twenty minutes) on the themes and readings described above, to which can be added - if the student so whishes - a paper or presentation, on a theme agreed with the teacher, presented in class or discussed during the interview. Evidence of the knowledge acquired through the study of the online teaching modules and the book selected by the student, or through the literature agrred when preparing the individual report, will obtain a grade between 18/30 and 30/30. 30/30L (30/30 cum laude) will require evidence of the ability, on the part of the student, of autonomous, individual elaboration on the themes addressed during the course in answer to additional, specific questions by the teacher.

Teaching tools

The materials presented during the lectures and seminars, plus a number teaching modules will be made available online. Write to the teacher for access: giuliano.pancaldi@unibo.it


Links to further information


Office hours

See the website of Giuliano Pancaldi