A Computer Science Student's Encounter With History

The UGC makes it mandatory for technical institutions to prescribe atleast 3 humanity courses in an engineer's 4 years of study. There are only two kinds of students in this regard - those who wish these courses weren't compulsory and perform poorly, and those who wish these courses weren't compulsory and still ace them for the sake of a good GPA. Don't get me wrong. There IS a third bucket of students who love these courses but funnily enough, they are usually those who aren't into engineering.

How it happened

So, coming to the topic. In the second semester of my second year, I decided to take up one of these courses. I was already looking forward to having a single digit percentage attendance and getting no better than a B-. My friend who had already completed his registration was sitting with me when I was doing mine. I started registering the core courses and came down to the list of humanity subjects (which, of course, I left for the end) and stared at it blankly. A few of the courses had already closed and the rest didn't seem to make much sense. As any sane and responsible student would have done, I asked my friend and took up the same course he had registered for (and you guessed it - he chose it randomly too).

Science Technology and Modernity

The course was "Science, Technology and Modernity". The first day was a full house. Everyone always shows up on the first day. The lecture began with the professor introducing herself and the subject. As is evident, it was a course about science and technology. However, what started after a couple of lectures was a look at science and technology which was the polar opposite of what anyone (who wasn't aware of the true meaning of the word) would infer from "modernity" - history. The aim was to explain the relationship between and the development of science and technology from a historical perspective. What started with the introduction of science and technology in the paleolithic era, turned to a full-fledged history lesson with us moving through rise and fall of civilizations, societal structures (since it directly correlates to the technology in the era) and empires. From paleolithic to neolithic to the bronze age, antiquity, middle ages and finally leading upto the scientific revolution.

How and why I came to love it

The attendance dropped (as it always does) and only a handful of students started showing up everyday. I, on the other hand and much to the surprise of my friends and I, had started to take keen interest in the subject. History of science (or a much better phrase - 'Story of Science') gripped me. Not only was I able to see where the contemporary debates have their roots in but also how human thought has evolved. When one thinks of science and how it has developed, it's natural to think of it as a select few people having a lot of "aha" moments. What we do not realise is that it's not the science that has developed as much as it is the human thought at the very basic level which has evolved for millenia to a state that we today take for granted. To realise that skills like how to reason, think critically, propose and prove hypotheses is something that isn't inherent to human thought is a humbling experience. Realising that such philosophers existed who defined 'science' and taught humanity how to think is mind boggling, to say the least.

At the time of writing this post, I am still registered in this course, now covering more recent topics and developments. Studying history, the kind I mentioned above and along with it the traditional history of civilizations and religions, is something I feel extremely fortunate to have been exposed to. The vast array of entire fields that I would have never even heard of, had my friend not chosen this subject, actually frightens me. My advice to fellow college students is to take up a course totally unrelated to your field and study it passionately. It might change you. This comes from a computer science student who loved the chance encounter he had with history.

Posted 4th April, 2019.