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New History of Science Course Examines Harvard's Move to Allston

The History of Science Department, located in Science Center Room 371, aims to study science, technology, and medicine in their historical and social contexts.
The History of Science Department, located in Science Center Room 371, aims to study science, technology, and medicine in their historical and social contexts. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Artea Brahaj and Taylor C. Peterman, Crimson Staff Writers

As Harvard prepares for its move into Allston, a new History of Science course will allow students to document the history expansion as it unfolds.

The course — titled History of Science 191cu: “Harvard’s Changing Landscapes: A Contemporary History Project” — will focus on the University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences as it awaits its move to Allston. The seminar will be “project-based” and “designed to introduce students to the range of skills needed to research and document historical change while it is ‘in process,’” according to the course catalog.

The new SEAS complex is set to open in September 2020 in Allston and will likely house more than 1,800 researchers, students, and faculty.

The course will allow students to study SEAS on the eve of its move through project planning, background research, interview planning, audio recording, and editing.

Course instructor and History of Science lecturer David S. Unger said the idea for the class stemmed from his work as a historian in museums.

“I've worked on a number of documentation projects at various museums and now, as the Director of Administration for the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, I'd like to bring that kind of work here,” he said.

Unger also said that Harvard’s move to Allston offers a unique research opportunity for students to participate in a “real, practical project.” He said the goal of the course is “to collect oral histories and other documentation from SEAS.”

Information gathered by the students will be “part of a larger collecting initiative” and will become part of Harvard’s Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, according to the course description.

“I'm very interested in thinking about how the collection can actively collect objects and stories from things happening now,” Unger said.

In a statement, University spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke wrote that Harvard is “proud” of its presence in Allston more broadly.

“We are proud to be part of a vibrant innovative, artistic, and collaborative ecosystem that will change the region – and the world – in profound ways,” she said.

In previous years, Harvard’s expansion into Allston has invited significant pushback from the neighborhood's residents. Still, O’Rourke wrote that Harvard’s work in the area will allow the University to continue to contribute to the community and to promote innovation in the area.

“This progress and thoughtful planning – together with Harvard’s commitment to community and being a good neighbor – are ensuring the Boston area remains at the forefront of teaching, learning, and research, and that it remains a place where people want to live, learn, work, and play,” she wrote.

The course has an enrollment limit of 15 students and will be offered in the upcoming spring semester.

— Staff writer Artea Brahaj can be reached at

— Staff writer Taylor C. Peterman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @taylorcpeterman.

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