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SX1507: FEARSOME ENGINES (2016-2017)

Last modified: 28 Jun 2018 10:27

Course Overview

The course aims to help the student understand how technological changes of the past have influenced subsequent social development and how social attitudes of the past have provided drivers and inhibitors of technological advance. The student will then be able to apply their understanding of these interactions to the analysis of modern society so as to identify and address threats and opportunities presented by technological change.

A variety of “fearsome engines” are studied from both the technological and social standpoints and provide students with examples of the process of technological development. The course is continuously assessed and includes student presentations.

Course Details

Study Type Undergraduate Level 1
Session Second Sub Session Credit Points 15 credits (7.5 ECTS credits)
Campus None. Sustained Study No
  • Professor John Nelson

Qualification Prerequisites


What courses & programmes must have been taken before this course?

  • Any Undergraduate Programme (Studied)

What other courses must be taken with this course?


What courses cannot be taken with this course?

  • SX1007 Fearsome Engines (First Half-Session) - Sixth Century Course (Passed)
  • SX1007 Fearsome Engines (First Half-Session) - Sixth Century Course (Studied)

Are there a limited number of places available?


Course Description

The course consists of six topics (a list of possible topics is shown below) delivered over 12 weeks.

  • The historical development of materials and their use
  • Internal combustion engines
  • Autonomous vehicles (including AI)
  • Siege engines
  • Steam engines
  • Engineering the Underground
  • Agricultural engines
  • Ships
  • Arms and Armour
  • Traffic signals
  • The inventions of Leonardo da Vinci

A broad definition of “engine” is adopted: an engine is essentially a mechanical contrivance consisting of several parts working together. Each will be accompanied by an illustration of why social and economic context is important (such as the rise of motorisation following the invention of the internal combustion engine).  Contributing lecturers choose the topic of greatest personal interest and deliver an in depth study. Tuition in presentation skills will also be offered.

The subject matter covers aspects of engineering (how the engine works) and historical (social and political impact of the invention or activity). Topics will be designed to be independent, while avoiding duplication. This will ensure adequate flexibility whilst also allowing contributors to relate to topics of current interest. Each semester the topics to be delivered will be selected taking account of availability and workload of the contributing lecturers.

Students will be given the opportunity to work in groups to produce presentations on either how a 19th / early 20th century invention transformed the world or on what the most significant fearsome engine of the 21st century is likely to be.

Further Information & Notes

This course is only available to students registered in Programme Years 1 and 2. Attendance at sixth century courses is compulsory. Students who do not attend all classes (including lectures) for a sixth century course, without exceptional cause, will not pass the engagement component of the course and will therefore fail the course.

Contact Teaching Time

Information on contact teaching time is available from the course guide.

Teaching Breakdown

More Information about Week Numbers

Details, including assessments, may be subject to change until 31 August 2023 for 1st half-session courses and 22 December 2023 for 2nd half-session courses.

Summative Assessments

In-session assessment of workshop/practical activity and student engagement with the material, including their engagement with the student assessments and participation in group presentations. Presentations will be assessed by peer feedback. The student must pass this element. (10%)

Two briefing documents or similar written work (one a 1000-word technical or policy briefing note linked to the topic of the group presentation; the other a 500-word briefing document to a key decision maker such as an MP or MSP). These submissions will be "seeded" with tutor prepared material and examples of appropriate student work from earlier years. (50%)

Two posters; a two-sided handbill and an 8-page brochure. The brochure will be linked to the theme of the first briefing document and will be prepared after receiving feedback for the first briefing document. (40%)

Students who fail the engagement element 1 MAY be offered a viva at the discretion of the course co-ordinator. Failure to adequately attend and engage in the work of the course will result in failure of the course.

For students failing the written elements and posters an extended essay applying the skills acquired during the course to a topic will be allocated by one of the tutors (100%).

Formative Assessment

The feedback from the first poster and first briefing document will help the student improve their performance for the second round of assessments. Peer assessment of the group presentations will help improve presentation skills.


Tutor feedback will be provided in writing, and verbally during the workshop/practical sessions, in the usual manner and via written feedback to all written assignments. Assignments are submitted and assessed via MyAberdeen.

Peer assessment will be provided for the group presentations.

Course Learning Outcomes


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