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Monday 17 June 2013

Very tempted to head off to New York in the autumn...

Extraordinary Women in Science & Medicine: Four Centuries of Achievement
At the Grolier Club
              September 18 – November 23, 2013

The Grolier Club is pleased to present a landmark exhibition exploring the legacy of thirty-two remarkable women whose extraordinary scientific accomplishments in physics, chemistry, astronomy,mathematics, computing, and medicine changed science. Extraordinary Women in Science & Medicine: Four Centuries of Achievement will illuminate the often little-known careers and accomplishments of these female scientists, examining their work and lives over four centuries. More than 150 original artifacts, including books, manuscripts, serials, authors’ separates, Ph.D. theses, and laboratory apparatus(such as that used by Marie Curie during her earliest work o nradioactivity) will be on view, providing a remarkable overview of the scientific contributions of this eminent group.
Included will be numerous items with special attributes and provenance. Of particular interest will be Emilie Du Châtelet’s 1759 translation of Newton’s Principia with the bookplate of Talleyrand; copies of all of her other scientific publications; a mathematics workbook and a letter, both in her hand; and materials about her fourteen-year relationship with Voltaire, including a book she co-authored—although without her name on the title page. A scientific breakthrough in genetics written on a brown paper bag is displayed. The exhibition also serves to announce a falsely attributed firstedition due to a typesetters error in the seventeenth century and a variety of other bibliographical discoveries.
Extraordinary Women in Science & Medicine: Four Centuries of Achievement highlights such luminaries of the physical sciences as Marie and Irène Curie, Marietta Blau, Lise Meitner, Maria Goeppert Mayer, C.-S. Wu, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, and Rosalind Franklin in physics and chemistry. Astronomers  include Maria Cunitz, the most advanced scholar in mathematical astronomy of the seventeenth century, and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, whose Ph.D. thesis in 1925 was the beginning of modern astrophysics. Among the mathematicians highlighted are Sophie Germain, Sophie Kowalevski, Emmy Noether, Emilie Du Châtelet, Maria Agnesi, and Florence Nightingale—for her work in statistics. Grace Hopper, the creator of many fundamental concepts in digital computing, is featured. Represented also are Laura Bassi, Hertha Ayrton, Marie Meurdrac, Marie Thiroux d’Arconville, Elizabeth Fulhame, and Ada, Countess of Lovelace.
Among medical scientists, the exhibition features Gerti Cori, instrumental in unveiling the fundamental mechanism of metabolism; Gertrude Elion, the first to design medicines effective in the cure of cancer and viral diseases; Rosalyn Yalow, developer of the powerful analytic tool, radioimmunoassay; and Florence Sabin, whose discoveries form the basis for our current understanding of cellular immunity. Two game-changers in medical science are Rita Levi-Montalcini, discoverer of nerve growth factor, and Barbara McClintock who discovered that genes are not fixed but move—the key paradigm shift in modern genetics. Great and influential clinical physicians include Louise Bourgeois Boursier, midwife to King Henry IV and Marie de Medici of France; the pioneering pediatric neurologist Mary Putnam Jacobi; and Helen Taussig, designer of the life-saving “blue baby” operation. 
The exhibition is designed to pose questions about women’s recognition—or lack thereof—in the sciences. Topics treated include educational opportunities, role models, the use of social capital, individual styles of doing science, and gender issues associated with society norms of the periods. The viewer may consider such questions, for example, as who deserved and who received Nobel Prize awards among the modern women. The intention is to raise awareness about how women’s roles have been limited in the development of the sciences. 
The exhibition was organized by Curators Ronald K. Smeltzer, Ph.D., Paulette Rose, Ph.D., and Robert J. Ruben, M.D., 
LOCATION AND TIME:  Extraordinary Women in Science & Medicine: Four Centuries of Achievement will be on view at the Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street, New York, from Sept. 18 – Nov. 23, 2013. The exhibition will be open to the public free of charge, Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
CATALOGUE: An illustrated catalogue in conjunction with the exhibition will be available at the Grolier Club. 
And flagging up as a related longer-term project, particularly relating to the UK: WISRNet: Women in Science Research Network and their forthcoming workshop  Fractured Histories – Discovering Women Scientists in the Archive.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

National differences, and the possible role of colonialism

I had a query today about clitoridectomy (as one does), with what I think may be a confusion between UK and US attitudes - there is some evidence that this continued to be deployed on girls as a 'cure' for masturbation in the USA into the mid-twentieth century but as far as one can tell, the famous scandal over Isaac Baker-Brown performing this operation at his London Surgical Home in the 1860s led to its rapid vanishing within UK medical practice. I have been told that it was being performed in Scottish lunatic asylums some time in the C19th but as I never got a detailed citation on this, and no specific dates, the jury is still out on this.

I also wondered today whether the British imperial context made a difference. In a number of areas of the Empire female genital mutilation was being practised for religious and cultural reasons and by the mid-1920s in Kenya there was a movement spearheaded by missionaries and supported by a number of feminists in the metropole against this 'barbaric custom'. This must have created an association for the operation with savagery rather than advanced civilisation.

However, there is the additional factor that, although as Rob Darby has delineated in A Surgical Temptation, male circumcision made the transition from a minority religious requirement to a hygienic recommendation against self-abuse and other ailments in the course of the C19th, it never became as routine a practice as it did in the USA, which may also have inflected attitudes.

Sunday 2 June 2013

Sex in the local record office

Found via that invaluable historian and documenter of LGBT history and its sources, Rictor Norton, a useful little page from the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre on sources for LGBT history in local record offices.

I am particularly interested to note that they recommend caution in assumptions that lunatic asylum records will be a fruitful source  - my own impression from the records of private lunatic asylums held in the Wellcome Library is that any such cases were few and far between, and such instances as I've come across of individuals incarcerated where there appeared to be some same-sex component to their behaviour manifested other issues which must have contributed probably even more strongly.

The sexual practice that crops up most frequently in records of C19th asylums is (as one might predict) self-abuse, mostly in terms of the strategies for its prevention.

One of the reasons why I would not expect men who had been engaging in same-sex activity to be found in poor law and voluntary asylums would be that non-elite men would have been primarily subjected to the various criminal and vagrancy penalties and thus be dealt with within the judicial system rather than the emergent discipline of psychiatry.

The situation is somewhat fuzzier if one considers the class which could have afforded to keep family members perceived as deviant in a private institution. Nonetheless, as already mentioned, these constitute a statistically meaningless number of cases (this is borne out by Charlotte Mackenzie's meticulously detailed analysis of the copious surviving records of Ticehurst House in the Wellcome Library, published as Psychiatry for the Rich). Perhaps the disgrace of having a certified lunatic in the family, and its impact on, for example, the matrimonial prospects of other family members, led those who could afford it to seek other expedients to contain potentially scandalous relatives, for example sending them to live abroad as 'remittance men'.