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Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of Science: An Astronomer Among the American Romanticsby Renee Bergland
Synopses & Reviews
How science closed its doors to women in the nineteenth century, told through the story of an American astronomer who achieved international fame
Science has not always been a masculine domain. In this engaging biography of a little-known American, Renee Bergland shows us a time not long ago, when girls and women flourished--and outnumbered men--in science and math.
Born and raised on Nantucket, Maria Mitchell apprenticed with her father, an amateur astronomer. In 1847, thanks to her diligent sweeps of the sky, Mitchell discovered the comet that would catapult her to international fame. Soon she was hired as the computer of Venus, a sort of human calculator, for the U.S. Nautical Almanac. Mitchell later joined the founding faculty at Vassar, where she sadly watched opportunities for her students vanish as science morphed from a private pursuit to a public profession, and the increasingly male scientific establishment closed ranks. In tracing Mitchell's story, Bergland chronicles the ideological and professional changes that led to the sexing of science--now so familiar that we take it for granted.
The best thing in its line since Dava Sobel's Longitude. Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of Science tells a great, if too little known, story of an intellectual woman in 19th 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
Book News Annotation:
Bergland (English and gender/cultural studies, Simmons College) establishes Mitchell firmly in the constellation of Yankee intellectuals, reminding us that in Mitchell's day her passion for astronomy was not untoward; clever girls were encouraged to pursue work in mathematics and science, which were considered closer to home, less politically threatening than the humanities and definitely less likely to be lucrative. Working from her rooftop, Mitchell managed to identify a new comet and, to the surprise of her male counterparts allowed into the humanities, became world famous. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
Renée Bergland teaches English and Gender/Cultural Studies at Simmons College and holds a research appointment in Women's and Gender Studies at Harvard. President of the New England American Studies Association and a former Fulbright scholar, she received a "We the People" grant from the NEH for her work on Maria Mitchell. She is author of The National Uncanny: Indian Ghosts and American Subjects, and co-editor (with Gary Williams) of Philosophies of Sex: Critical Essays on the Hermaphrodite. She has also written for the Boston Globe, L.A. Times, and Washington Post.
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