Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of Science - An Astronomer among the American Romantics
Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of Science: An Astronomer among the American Romantics
Product Code: 2142
Binding Information: Cloth
Size: 6 X 9 Inches (US)
Copyright Date Ed: 04/01/2008
Trade Code: 00C
Price: $29.95 In stock.
How science closed its doors to women in the nineteenth century, told through the story of an American astronomer who achieved international fame
New England blossomed in the nineteenth century, producing a crop of distinctively American writers along with distinguished philosophers and jurists, abolitionists and scholars. A few of the female stars of this era-Emily Dickinson, Margaret Fuller, and Susan B. Anthony, for instance-are still appreciated, but there are a number of intellectual women whose crucial roles in the philosophical, social, and scientific debates that roiled the era have not been fully examined.
Among them is the astronomer Maria Mitchell. She was raised in isolated but cosmopolitan Nantucket, a place brimming with enthusiasm for intellectual culture and hosting the luminaries of the day, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Sojourner Truth. Like many island girls, she was encouraged to study the stars. Given the relative dearth of women scientists today, most of us assume that science has always been a masculine domain. But as Renee Bergland reminds us, science and humanities were not seen as separate spheres in the nineteenth century; indeed, before the Civil War, women flourished in science and mathematics, disciplines that were considered less politically threatening and less profitable than the humanities. Mitchell apprenticed with her father, an amateur astronomer; taught herself the higher math of the day; and for years regularly “swept” the clear Nantucket night sky with the telescope in her rooftop observatory.
In 1847, thanks to these diligent sweeps, Mitchell discovered a comet and was catapulted to international fame. Within a few years she was one of America’s first professional astronomers; as “computer of Venus“-a sort of human calculator-for the U.S. Navy’s Nautical Almanac, she calculated the planet’s changing position. After an intellectual tour of Europe that included a winter in Rome with Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mitchell was invited to join the founding faculty at Vassar College, where she spent her later years mentoring the next generation of women astronomers. Tragically, opportunities for her students dried up over the next few decades as the increasingly male scientific establishment began to close ranks.
Mitchell protested this cultural shift in vain. “The woman who has peculiar gifts has a definite line marked out for her,” she wrote, “and the call from God to do his work in the field of scientific investigation may be as imperative as that which calls the missionary into the moral field or the mother into the family . . . The question whether women have the capacity for original investigation in science is simply idle until equal opportunity is given them.” In this compulsively readable biography, Renee Bergland chronicles the ideological, academic, and economic changes that led to the original sexing of science-now so familiar that most of us have never known it any other way.
Review By: Debby Applegate, Boston.com - April 13, 2008
"There is a lot to like about this book. Mitchell is a charming subject, and the story is fascinating and important. " Read Full Review
Review Bust - July 1, 2008
". . .a solid contribution to the history of women, education, and science."
Review Choice Magazine - September 1, 2008
". . . captivating . . . highly recommended."
Review The Journal of American History - March 1, 2009
“Renée Bergland’s new work on the American astronomer Maria Mitchell (1818–1889) is more than a biography, although it covers the details of her life very well. By presenting Mitchell’s seventy-one-year life in the context of contemporary science, literary history, social and religious milieu, and gender relationships, Bergland has constructed a rich cultural history of the time. She carefully examines those disparate subjects to explain how they combined to mold Mitchell into a respected astronomer.”
Review Women's Review of Books - November 30, 2008
“Bergland’s book is . . . ambitious, attempting to integrate the history of science, literature, culture, and gender studies . . . The information she offers is rich . . . Bergland provides a look into the history of American women scientists and informs readers about the world of nineteenth-century academic women.”
Review The New England Quarterly - November 1, 2008
“An intimate and sympathetic portrait of undoubtedly the most visible and perhaps the most influential woman scientist in nineteenth-century North America . . . Through Mitchell’s life narrative, Bergland elaborates on issues of women in science and education and explores the nineteenth century’s rapidly shifting notions of gender, concluding with a critical epilogue on more recent public assessments of women in science . . . A highly readable account, Bergland’s book is richly descriptive.”
Review Science News - August 15, 2008
“A fun read, particularly for those captivated by romanticism, the role of women in science or the night sky.”
Review The Barnstable Patriot - May 29, 2008
“A really thorough, well-written biography for the twenty-first century. There’s more in this book than can ever fit into a review. Read it for its intellectual pleasures; read it for its graceful language; read it for its great sweep of a story, just as Maria Mitchell swept the heavens and found a comet.”
“The best thing in its line since Dava Sobel’s Longitude. Bergland tells a great, if too little known, story of an intellectual woman in nineteenth-century New England. And it is beautifully told: I simply could not put it down. Anyone who cares about women’s education in America should read this compelling and indispensable book.” —Robert D. Richardson, author of Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind, Emerson: The Mind on Fire, and William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism
“Ren‚àöv†e Bergland recounts the story of Maria Mitchell’s life and work in glorious and careful detail. One feels and hears the sounds of Mitchell’s native Nantucket and her adopted Vassar, and comes to understand how one of the ‘gentler sex’ advanced astronomy in her day.” —Londa Schiebinger, author of Has Feminism Changed Science?