Forces of Nature The Women Who Changed Science
From the ancient world to the present women have been critical to the progress of science, yet their importance is overlooked, their stories lost, distorted, or actively suppressed. Forces of Nature sets the record straight and charts the fascinating history of women’s discoveries in science.
In the ancient and medieval world, women served as royal physicians and nurses, taught mathematics, studied the stars, and practiced midwifery. As natural philosophers, physicists, anatomists, and botanists, they were central to the great intellectual flourishing of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. More recently women have been crucially involved in the Manhattan Project, pioneering space missions and much more. Despite their record of illustrious achievements, even today very few women win Nobel Prizes in science.
In this thoroughly researched, authoritative work, you will discover how women have navigated a male-dominated scientific culture – showing themselves to be pioneers and trailblazers, often without any recognition at all. Included in the book are the stories of:
- Hypatia of Alexandria, one of the earliest recorded female mathematicians
- Maria Cunitz who corrected errors in Kepler’s work
- Emmy Noether who discovered fundamental laws of physics
- Vera Rubin one of the most influential astronomers of the twentieth century
- Jocelyn Bell Burnell who helped discover pulsars
WOMEN IN THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE: REMEMBERING AND FORGETTING
Writing the history of women is often an encounter with absence and silence. In the history of science in particular, the written record simply does not reflect the number of women who have always participated in science and medicine, nor does it reflect the complexity of their stories. In many times and places, it was seen as inappropriate for women to participate in public life, particularly in the Western world, so there are simply fewer records of women in general. Access to public life confers value and status and makes a person’s accomplishments, and even the basic facts of their life, worth recording. Historically, women have been denied this access, and along with it a more complete record of their lives.
In the sciences, this lack of a record is compounded by the insular nature of scientific communities. Women were often not allowed into the institutional spaces that create and keep written records, such as professional societies and scientific journals.
The challenge and reward of writing women’s history is reading these gaps in the record for clues to the ways that women have been erased from history, which is sometimes all we can definitively say about their lives.
The farther back in time one searches, the more difficult it becomes to locate written accounts of the lives of women in science.
Very few written records of any kind exist from ancient times, and the relatively low status of women in different societies has impacted the likelihood that they will be mentioned in such records. There are, however, records about a few women whose lives and work included intentional and careful study of the natural world.