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Gender and the historiography of science

  • Ludmilla Jordanova (a1)

The production of big pictures is arguably the most significant sign of the intellectual maturity of a field. It suggests both that the field's broad contours, refined over several generations of scholarship, enjoy the approval of practitioners, and that audiences exist with an interest in or need for overviews. The situation is somewhat more complicated in the history of science, since the existence of big historical pictures precedes that of a well-defined scholarly field by about two centuries. Broadly conceived histories of science and medicine were being written in the eighteenth century, when such an all-encompassing vision was central to the claims about the progress of knowledge upon which Enlightenment ideologues set such store. The Plato to Nato style histories, characteristic of the earlier twentieth century, were written largely by isolated pioneers, and while these were used in teaching as the field was becoming professionalized, recent scholars have preferred to concentrate on a monographic style of research. Despite the existence of the series started by Wiley, and now published by Cambridge University Press, it is only in the last ten years or so that more conscious attempts have been made to generate a big-picture literature informed by new scholarship. It is noteworthy that most of this is addressed to students and general readers, although there is no logical reason why it should not tackle major theoretical issues of concern to scholars. My point about maturity still holds, then, since as a designated discipline the history of science is rather new; it is still feeling out its relationship with cognate disciplines. Big-picture histories have an important role to play in these explorations since they make findings and ideas widely available and thereby offer material through which ambitious interpretations can be debated, modified and transformed.

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My thanks to John Brooke, Jim Secord, Roger Smith and Bob Westman for their generous help, to Leonore Davidoff for the inspiration her work on gender provides, and to the participants in two recent conferences on gender, at the Universities of Essex (April 1993) and London (July 1993) respectively, for their stimulating ideas. Readers should note that this article does not attempt to offer a survey of the literature on gender.

1 Examples of eighteenth-century survey histories are Black, William, An Historical Sketch of Medicine and Surgery, from their Origin to the Present Time; and of the Principal Authors, Discoveries, Improvements, Imperfections and Errors, London, 1782, and Smith, Adam, ‘The principles which lead and direct philosophical enquiries; illustrated by the history of astronomy’, in Adam Smith. Essays on Philosophical Subjects (ed. Wightman, W. and Bryce, J.), Oxford, 1980, 33106. Earlier twentieth-century surveys include: Nordenskiold, Erik, The History of Biology: A Survey, New York, 1928; Singer, Charles, A Short History of Science to the Nineteenth Century, Oxford, 1941; Bernal, J. D., Science in History, 4 vols., London, 1954. Titles in the Cambridge series include: Hankins, Thomas, Science and the Enlightenment, Cambridge, 1985 and Brooke, John, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives, Cambridge, 1991. See also Brock, William, The Fontana History of Chemistry, London, 1992, and Bowler, Peter, The Fontana History of the Environmental Sciences, London, 1992.

2 On ‘modern’, see Berman, Marshall, All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity, London, 1983; Williams, Raymond, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, London, 1983 (revised edition), 208–9; Smith, Anthony, The Concept of Social Change: A Critique of the Functionalist Theory of Social Change, London, 1973; Xenos, Nicholas, Scarcity and Modernity, London and New York, 1989. Michael Baxandall's notion of the period eye may be useful in thinking about how eras are visualized: Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy, Oxford, 1972, ch. 2.

3 Examples of comparative history are: Emsley, Clive, Essays in Comparative History: Economy, Politics and Society in Britain and America, Milton Keynes, 1984; Kendall, Jane, The Origins of Modern Feminism: Women in Britain, France and the United States, 1780–1860, London, 1985 (in the Macmillan series, Themes in Comparative History); Skocpol, Theda, States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China, Cambridge, 1979; Moore, Barrington, Privacy: Studies in Social and Cultural History, New York, 1984; see also the journal Comparative Studies in Society and History.

4 Ben-David, Joseph, The Scientist's Role in Society: A Comparative Study, Englewood Cliffs, 1971; Glick, Thomas (ed.), The Comparative Reception of Darwinism, Austin, 1974; Comparative Studies in Society and History (1982), 24, 533610 (a set of papers on ‘The Cultural Diffusion of Freudian Thought’).

5 Lovejoy, Arthur, The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea, New York, 1960, and Essays in the History of Ideas, New York, 1960; Glacken, Clarence, Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in Western Thought from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century, Berkeley, 1967; Boas, George, Vox Populi: Essays in the History of an Idea, Baltimore, 1969.

6 Allen, Garland, Life Science in the Twentieth Century, London and New York, 1979; Coleman, William, Biology in the Nineteenth Century: Problems of Form, Function, and Transformation, London and New York, 1971 and Nordenskiold, , op. cit. (1).

7 Westman, Robert, ‘The astronomer's role in the sixteenth century: a preliminary study’, History of Science (1980), 18, 105–47 and Weisheipl, James, ‘The nature, scope, and classification of the sciences’, in Science in the Middle Ages (ed. Lindberg, D.), Chicago, 1978, 461–82 consider the issue of discipline formation; another approach is via histories of science: Laudan, Rachel, ‘Histories of the sciences and their uses: a review to 1913’, History of Science (1993), 31, 134.

8 Geertz, Clifford, Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretative Anthropology, New York, 1983, 4.

9 See the relatively new journal Science in Context and James Secord's review of it in Isis (1990), 81, 289–90.

10 E.g. Shapin, Steven and Schaffer, Simon, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life, Princeton, 1985; Desmond, Adrian, The Politics of Evolution: Morphology, Medicine and Reform in Radical London, Chicago, 1989.

11 Illich, Ivan, Gender, London, 1983; Scott, Joan, ‘Gender: a useful category for historical analysis’, American Historical Review (1986), 91, 1053–75 and Gender and the Politics of History, New York, 1988.

12 Rosenberg, Charles and Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll, ‘The female animal: medical and biological views of women’, Journal of American History (1973), 60, 332–56; Hartman, Mary and Banner, Lois (eds.), Clio's Consciousness Raised, New York, 1971; Ehrenreich, Barbara and English, Dierdre, For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts' Advice to Women, London, 1979; Duffin, Lorna, ‘The conspicuous consumptive’, in The Nineteenth-Century Woman Her Cultural and Physical World (ed. Delamont, S. and Duffin, L.), London, 1978, 2656.

13 Rossiter, Margaret, Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940, Baltimore, 1982; Abir-Am, Pnina and Outram, Dorinda (eds.), Uneasy Careers and Intimate Lives: Women in Science, 1789–1979, New Brunswick and London, 1987; Kass-Simon, G. and Fames, Patricia (eds.), Women of Science: Righting the Record, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1990. In The Mind Has No Sex? Women in the Origins of Modern Science, Cambridge, Mass., 1989, Londa Schiebinger has attempted to bring together the study of women practitioners and changing ideas of sexual difference.

14 MacCormack, Carol and Strathern, Marilyn (eds.), Nature, Culture and Gender, Cambridge, 1980; Ortner, Sherry and Whitehead, Harriet (eds.), Sexual Meanings: The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality, Cambridge, 1981; Davidoff, Leonore, ‘“Adam spoke first and named the orders of the world”: masculine and feminine domains in history and sociology’, in Politics of Everyday Life: Continuity and Change in Work and the Family (ed. Corr, H. and Jamieson, L.), London, 1990, 229–55; Crompton, Rosemary and Mann, Michael (eds.), Gender and Stratification, Cambridge, 1986, especially chs. 4 and 12; Burke, Peter, History and Social Theory, Ithaca, 1992.

15 Illich, , op. cit. (11), 4; see also Beer, Gillian, ‘“The Face of Nature”: anthropomorphic elements in the language of The Origin of Species’, in Languages of Nature: Critical Essays on Science and Literature (ed. Jordanova, L.), London, 1986, 207–43; Jordanova, Ludmilla, Sexual Visions: Images of Gender in Science and Medicine between the Eighteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Hemel Hempstead, 1989, ch. 4; Duden, Barbara, The Woman Beneath the Skin: A Doctor's Patients in Eighteenth-Century Germany, Cambridge, Mass., 1991, especially 3741.

16 ‘Sophia’, Woman Not Inferior to Man, London, 1739, and Wollstonecraft, Mary, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, London, 1792 are well-known examples.

17 Evelyn Fox Keller, , Reflections on Gender and Science, New Haven and London, 1985, part 2, and ‘From secrets of life to secrets of death’, in Body/Politics: Women and the Discourses of Science (ed. Jacobus, M., Keller, E. Fox and Shuttleworth, S.), New York and London, 1990, 177–91; cf. Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York and London, 1990, ch. 2.

18 See e.g., the journal Representations; on personification see: Warner, Marina, Monuments and Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form, London, 1985; Agulhon, Maurice, Marianne into Battle: Republican Imagery and Symbolism in France, 1789–1880, Cambridge, 1981; Pointon, Marcia, Naked Authority: The Body in Western Painting 1830–1908, Cambridge, 1990, especially ch. 3; Schiebinger, Londa, ‘Feminine icons: the face of early modern science’, Critical Inquiry (1988), 14, 661–91.

19 Veith, Ilza, Hysteria: The History of a Disease, Chicago, 1965; Showalter, Elaine, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830–1980, London, 1987; Figlio, Karl, ‘Chlorosis and chronic disease in 19th-century Britain: the social constitution of somatic illness in a capitalist society’, in Women and Health: The Politics of Sex in Medicine (ed. Fee, E.), Farmingdale, NY, 1983, 213–41; Brumberg, Joan, ‘Chlorotic girls, 1870–1920: a historical perspective on female adolescence’, in Women and Health in America: Historical Readings (ed. Leavitt, J.), Madison, 1984, 186–95.

20 Thompson, E. P., The Making of the English Working Class, London, 1963 (‘class is a relationship, not a thing… “It”does not exist’, p. 11); Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act, New York, 1975; Customs in Common, London, 1993.

21 Micale, Mark, ‘Hysteria male/hysteria female: reflections on comparative gender construction in nineteenth-century France and Britain’, in Science and Sensibility: Gender and Scientific Enquiry 1780–1945 (ed. Benjamin, Marina), Oxford, 1991, 200–39; Showalter, Elaine, op. cit. (19), ch. 7; Moscucci, Ornella, The Science of Woman: Gynaecology and Gender in England, 1800–1929, Cambridge, 1990; Bynum, William and Porter, Roy (eds.), William Hunter and the Eighteenth Century Medical World, Cambridge, 1985; Porter, Roy ‘A touch of danger: the man-midwife as sexual predator’, in Sexual Underworlds of the Enlightenment (ed. Rousseau, G. and Porter, R.), Manchester, 1987, 206–32.

22 Merchant, Carolyn, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution, New York, 1980; Keller, Fox, op. cit. (17), chs. 2 and 3; Schiebinger, , op. cit. (13); Easlea, Brian, Fathering the Unthinkable: Masculinity, Scientists and the Nuclear Arms Race, London, 1983, especially 1928.

23 Bernard, Claude, An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine, New York, 1957, 22–3.

24 Jordan, Winthrop, White over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro 1550–1812, Baltimore, 1969.

25 Elshtain, Jean, Public Man, Private Woman: Women in Social and Political Thought, Oxford, 1981, and Meditations on Modern Political Thought: Masculine/Feminine Themes from Luther to Arendt, New York, 1986; Okin, Susan, Women in Western Political Thought, Princeton, 1979; Moore, Henrietta, Feminism and Anthropology, Cambridge, 1988, ch. 2; Lloyd, Genevieve, The Man of Reason: ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, London, 1984, especially ch. 5.

26 Maclean, Ian, The Renaissance Notion of Women, Cambridge, 1980; and the works cited in note 25.

27 On embryology see Gasking, Elizabeth, Investigations into Generation 1651–1828, Baltimore, 1966; Roe, Shirley, Matter, Life, and Generation: Eighteenth-century Embryology and the Haller-Wolff Debate, Cambridge, 1981; Horder, T. J., Witkowski, J. A. and Wylie, C. C. (eds.), A History of Embryology, Cambridge, 1986. McLaren, Angus, Reproductive Rituals: The Perception of Fertility in England from the Sixteenth Century to the Nineteenth Century, London and New York, 1984, places these issues in a broad historical context.

28 Jordanova, Ludmilla, ‘Naturalizing the family: literature and the bio-medical sciences in the late eighteenth century’, in Jordanova, L. (ed.), op. cit. (15), 86116, especially 115–16; Schiebinger, Londa, ‘Why mammals are called mammals: gender politics in eighteenth-century natural history’, American Historical Review (1993), 98, 382411; Moscucci, , op. cit. (21).

29 Burkhardt, Richard, ‘Closing the door on Lord Morton's mare: the rise and fall of telegony’, Studies in the History of Biology (1979), 3, 121; Bynum, and Porter, (eds.), op. cit. (21); Moscucci, , op. cit. (21).

30 Strathern, Marilyn, Reproducing the Future: Essays on Anthropology, Kinship and the New Reproductive Technologies, Manchester, 1992, and After Nature: English Kinship in the Late Twentieth Century, Cambridge, 1992.

31 Smith, Adam, The Wealth of Nations, Harmondsworth, 1970, ch. 8, especially 182–3.

32 Malthus, , An Essay on the Principle of Population, Harmondsworth, 1970.

33 Starting at least with Hobbes' Leviathan, political theorists, including political economists, turned to supposedly natural and original situations and used the relations between men and women that they imagined to have obtained there as models, both positive and negative, often treating them as naturalized legitimations of social relations more generally: Elshtain, , op. cit. (25) and Okin, , op. cit. (25).

34 Davin, Anna, ‘Imperialism and Motherhood’, History Workshop Journal (1978), 5, 965; Lewis, Jane, The Politics of Motherhood, London, 1980; Oakely, Ann, The Captured Womb: A History of the Medical Care of Pregnant Women, Oxford, 1984; Pfeffer, Naomi, The Stork and the Syringe, Cambridge, 1993.

35 Taylor, Frederick Winslow, Principles of Scientific Management, New York and London, 1911, 40, cited in Jordanova, Ludmilla, Sexual Visions: Images of Gender in Science and Medicine between the Eighteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Hemel Hempstead, 1989, 118; Haraway, Donna, Primate Visions: Gender, Race and Nature in the World of Modern Science, New York and London, 1989, and Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, London, 1991.

36 In addition to works already cited, the following journals are relevant: Gender and History; Genders; Journal of Gender Studies; Gender and Society, as are the following books: Poovey, Mary, Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian England, Chicago, 1988; Laqueur, Thomas, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Cambridge, Mass., 1990; Showalter, Elaine, Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle, London, 1991; Walkowitz, Judith, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London, London, 1992; Russett, Cynthia, Sexual Science: The Victorian Construction of Womanhood, Cambridge, Mass., 1989; Fausto-Sterling, Anne, Myths of Gender: Biological Theories about Women and Men, New York, 1985.

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