The Darwin Correspondence Project is proud to announce the release of a major set of online resources aimed at students and researchers of the History of Science, Gender History and Gender Studies. The Darwin & Gender resources are the culmination of a two-year research initiative funded by the Bonita Trust and led by Dr. Philippa Hardman.
Perhaps most notably, our research has shown that Darwin and his contemporaries’ views on gender were remarkably complex, especially in the private context. Thus, while Darwin’s ostensibly-objective publications generally reflected (and, indeed, reinforced) Victorian middle class gender ideology, in his correspondence we encounter a world of private thoughts and actions which often defied the dictates of Victorian gender ideals.
By examining Darwin’s published works alongside his private correspondence, the Darwin & Gender resources offer insight into the complexities of Victorian gender in public and private and in theory and practice. The resources raise interesting questions about the participation of men and women in the world of nineteenth-century science. More generally, they encourage us to reconsider our assumptions about the construction, content and impact of gender ideology in Victorian Britain.
One of the key findings of the Darwin & Gender research project relates to women’s involvement in the world of Victorian science. In Darwin’s correspondence we find not only groundbreaking Victorian ‘heroines’ of science such as Mary Somerville and Lydia Becker but also a large number of women who, often routinely, made little-known contributions to Darwin’s work.
The first theme, ‘Women and Science‘, focuses on those women who contributed to Darwin’s work: who were Darwin’s ‘scientific’ women correspondents? What motivated and enabled them to engage with Darwin’s publications? What sorts of contributions did women make to Darwin’s work? And did Darwin value their efforts? This theme includes a special exercise on scientists’ wives who, contrary to expectations, typically made significant contributions to their husbands’ scientific work.
In the second theme, ‘Sex and Scientific Participation‘, we consider scientific participation in a comparative context: did Darwin’s men and women correspondents do the same sorts of scientific work? Did Darwin respond to men and women in the same way? And how did one’s sex influence where, when and how one encountered Darwin’s works? This theme also contains an exercise on the referencing of Darwin’s correspondents’ contributions: men and women alike contributed to Darwin’s major works, but were their efforts referenced equally and consistently throughout Darwin’s publications?
The final theme – the ‘Gendered Status of Science‘ – considers the unstable gendered status of natural science during the nineteenth century. Drawing on Darwin’s correspondence, we highlight how nineteenth-century gender ideology made scientific participation problematic for men and women alike. Was science a man’s world in nineteenth-century Britain? Why did Victorian men of science describe their work as ‘labour‘? And what can we learn from Victorian caricatures about the relationship between science and gender in nineteenth-century Britain?
To celebrate the launch of the resources, we will be working with Andrew Gray – the Wikipedian in residence at the British Library - on a ‘Women in Science’ Wikipedia event at Cambridge University Library. At the event a team of volunteers will join project members in drawing on Darwin’s correspondence to create and/or expand the Wikipedia profiles of a selection of Darwin’s scientific women correspondents.
Among the correspondents in focus will be botanist, meteorologist and keen photographer Thereza Story-Maskelyne, populariser of science Anne Jane Cupples, American feminist Emily Talbot and Victorian explorer and early promotor of women’s football, Lady Florence Dixie.
The gender resources were developed with funding provided by the Bonita Trust and with significant input and assistance from a number of project colleagues, especially Katie Ericksen Baca.