Gendering Scientific Discourse from 1790-1830: Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Beddoes, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Marcet
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation project operates on the belief that the democratic, everyday pursuits of science were at least as significant scientifically, and perhaps even more important culturally, as the elite, highly speculative work done by the gentlemen scientists of the Romantic Age (1790-1830). It focuses upon the literary works, careers, and discourse of Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Beddoes, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Marcet, tracing the role that gender played in assigning recognition and authority in the scientific community. Operating in a public sphere that favored the scientific discoveries of male gentlemen scientists, boundary crossing had to occur decisively, but quietly through a method of subversion and containment. Women had to enter the scientific conversation through traditionally unscientific genres and anonymous or apologetic prefaces, which usually conveyed intent to share science with other women. I explore the problem they all faced, in trying to recount science to a broader audience; I document how and why they responded to each other and toward the changing public sphere’s positioning of science. For these reasons, the Romantic Age’s collaboratives of gentlemen scientists significantly influenced how their popularizing contemporaries, specifically women, responded to science and how, as a result, elitism further diversified the pursuit of science.Each author’s presentation of expertise demonstrates the role of popular writings on the sciences in redefining scientific authority. These authors are representative of the two-sided struggle to make science more elite and more popular; and regardless of their allegiance in this struggle, each attempted to make science more accessible. This dissertation explores the tenuous relationship between the professions of authorship and science, highlighting the communication of both scientific discoveries and applications through writing as another facet of scientific practice. Elite gentlemen scientists’ perceptions of others as authors reflect their own self-fashioning of the professional identity of scientific writer, and popularizers of science synthesized scientific information as they learned it themselves, thereby forging a new worldview.