So I had my first ‘History and Philosophy of Science’ class yesterday. It’s an undergrad course I’m required to take for WI state licensure to teach science, but it looks like it could be interesting. I do enjoy the history of science, after all. Even if I have to put up with undergrads (eww, undergrads!).
Of course, when things move slowly in class (like, say, the professor is going through the syllabus on the first day), my mind starts to wander. And then my hands just start doodling of their own accord. In this case, I managed to resist the urge to doodle until we came to the following name on the syllabus:
E. du Chatelet
Which, it turns out, stands for Emilie du Chatelet. As in, (for those of us who don’t speak French) Emily du Chatelet. As in, A LADYPERSON.
I know, right? A ladyperson doing science? Before the 20th century? Shocking!
So then this happened:
Actually, one of the encouraging things about this class is that – despite the fact that only 4/19 students are female, and three of us ladypersons are only there because we have to take the course in order to teach – the professor is aware of the way that the mainstream history of science narrative often gets things wrong. Like Galileo inventing the telescope (he didn’t). Or ladypersons not doing science until recently (they did). So he made sure to point out the other two women on the syllabus, with appropriate social commentary.
True story. Other people have won two Nobels, but their second Nobels were the Nobel Peace Prize (for nuclear non-proliferation) or in the same field as the first Nobel. Only Madame Curie is awesome enough to have won the Nobel Prize in both Physics AND Chemistry.
If you don’t know at least the bare bones of the Watson/Crick/Franklin scandal, look it up. Just one of many instances of women’s achievements in the sciences being co-opted by men. (We astronomers have a few of those of our own…)
For those of you keeping score at home, we’ve reached a grand total of three women to be mentioned by name in the syllabus, out of 50+ names. Which is, sadly, two more than I expected to find. There is the expected lack of POC, although that wasn’t my focus when looking through this (we are going to talk about how the Arabs gave us a ton of math and science, but there weren’t any specific names mentioned).
Le sigh. Yes, I concede that in many situations there were (and are) societal pressures that made it more difficult for women and POC to pursue a career in science. But some truly awesome people DID IT ANYWAY. The kyriarchal worms would have you believe that the history of science is the history of white men. The kyriarchal worms are wrong.
Unfortunately, kyriarchal worms are tricky little beasts, and they’ve infested most of the mainstream historical dialog, especially in the sciences. Hell, they’ve infected most mainstream dialog, period.
So this guy will probably be popping up again in the margins of my notes and readings. Feel free to pencil him in to any of your schoolwork where the kyriarchy has been meddling. The worms have been invisible for too long!