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

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Gender equality Reduced inequalities Responsible consumption and production Life on land

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

Al termine del corso la studentessa e lo studente: - hanno indagato dati e casi del passato e contemporanei utili a comprendere alcuni aspetti delle interazioni tra scienza e società, nonché la loro evoluzione e diffusione in contesti temporali e culturali diversi; - sono in grado di verificare, scegliere e utilizzare strumenti, fonti e dati utili a formulare un loro punto di vista, personale e autonomo, su questioni attuali che concernono i rapporti tra scienza e società.


Course contents

Nature, cultures, and technologies

This course is organized around a dual focus: our controversial relationships with what we call “nature” as well as technologies. The key interpretative tool in this course will be a kind of history that communicates with the natural sciences, philosophy and Science and technology studies (STS) through an integrated approach that will be presented in the first few lessons.

We will begin from the present, exploring the question: Who are we? Who are we from an evolutionary point of view and in a “onlife” context as individuals, society, and species? Why do we tend to destroy the environment we call “natural” and exterminate any other animal and plant species that do not provide us with recreation or are not part of our food chain? Why is it that we approach technologies – which we have been shaping and molding for at least two and a half million years – by oscillating between rejection/suspicion and addictive/compulsive use?

Together, we will investigate the consequences of these controversial relationships. On the one hand, these include the anthropogenic environmental problems that experts have been exposing since at least the 1960s (actually, as early as the 19th century, as the course will show) but which went ignored for a long time, until the current climate crisis. On the other hand, we will discuss the human capacity for resilience and increasingly refined and rapid (bio)technological responses to problems, as in the case of the development of anti-SARS-CoV-2 vaccines within months of the onset of the pandemic. In other words, we will investigate the seemingly insurmountable gap between certain cognitive capacities typical of our species, capacities that have given rise to extraordinary techno-scientific, artistic and cultural accomplishments since the second half of the 19th century, and the persistent inability to make socially sustainable use of these accomplishments.

These macro-themes will be framed in a context of both deep and historical time. In historical times, we will examine the role that communication technologies (from the printing press to the internet) have played in both social and scientific development in the so-called West, with a focus on the last century and a half. In this short period of time we humans progressed from steam civilization to the electrical civilization in which we now live. The course will grant particular attention to the role of communication, which in the 20th century was referred to as “popularization”: a crucial set of practices in science and in the relationship between science and society. For this reason, the course reference texts are by a philosopher (Luciano Floridi) and a palaeoanthropologist (Silvana Condemi) who succeeded in tackling the challenge of communicating difficult issues such as our life in a digital age and the natural history of humanity to non-experts at an international level. Alongside these texts, we will also present and discuss political editorials from scientific journals such as Nature, Science, Pnas, The Lancet and others, with the aim of learning to navigate among sources in order to choose substantiated information and data on science and society.

From February 7,  2022:

Monday 13-15 (room D, 34);

Tuesday 11-13 (room D, Centotrecento);

Wednesday 13-15 (room C, 34)


The program is the same for attending and non attending students, including students of the Erasmus program.

1. Texts, films, and PowerPoints posted (during the course) on the e-learning platform;

2. Luciano Floridi, The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality, Oxford UP, 2014.

3. Silvana Condemi e François Savatier, Noi siamo Sapiens. Alla ricerca delle nostre origini, Torino, Bollati Boringhieri, 2019 (1° ed. orig. 2018; 140 pp.)

4. P. Govoni, Che cos’è la storia della scienza, Roma, Carocci, 2019 [new enlarged ed.].

5. [only for BioEvo students] Giampietro Gobo e Valentina Marcheselli, Sociologia della scienza e della tecnologia. Un’introduzione, Carocci, Roma, 2021, Introduzione, Parti II e III.

Teaching methods

This course aims to support self-assessment processes and thus avoids as much as possible the traditional three-phase approach of lecturing, autonomous learning, and evaluation. Instead, we will try to adopt different practices (e.g. flipped classroom and cooperative learning approaches) in an attempt to mix these three phases in different ways. The aim is to provide students with greater autonomy in terms of studying, conducting in-depth analysis and communicating what they read, as well as the skills of group work and peer discussion. We will do this together by organizing the group activities and discussions that are a fundamental component of this course. These activities are accessible for both in-person and online students. Those who cannot attend the lectures will study the texts indicated in the course readings list.

Students attending this course (in person or online) will be invited to present – in groups of two/three and preferably combining both Philosophical Sciences and Biodiversity and Evolution – on a topic related to the course and previously specified with the teacher. Up to 5 points will be awarded for these activities.

Students attending this course (in person or online) will be able to take a written exam (using the Forms platform) at the end of the lectures: on the basis of an outline, the aim will be to present an argument about the materials discussed in the lectures and presented in the small group presentations in a personal and critical way, including on the basis of students’ own notes and using correctly cited online resources. Up to 5 points will be awarded for this exam.

With an eye to fostering environmental and technological sustainability as well as social inclusion, the group work carried out during the course will be part of the activities of the Lab NOS/Terra Franca: Nuovi orizzonti per la specie: ecosistemi, culture, diversità (New Horizons for Our Species: Ecosystems, Cultures, Diversity), an ongoing experimental project that will be introduced in the first few lessons.

Assessment methods

Oral exam: this consists of three questions, stemming from a freely chosen topic.

Students will be tested on their knowledge of the course’s bibliography, as well as on their ability to reason in a logical, concise and personal way.

The accuracy and precision of the student’s way of expression will also be taken in consideration.

For further information, please consult the educational guidelines here (Regolamento didattico).

Teaching tools

PowerPoint; e-learning tools; if possible, science museums.

Office hours

See the website of Paola Govoni