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Title: The Second Science: Feminist Natural Inquiry in Nineteenth-Century British Literature
Authors: Minnen, Jennifer
Advisors: Nord, Deborah
Contributors: English Department
Subjects: English literature
Gender studies
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Revising commonplaces about where science happened, who pursued it, and why, “The Second Science” argues that nineteenth-century women writers used the daily work of natural history— collection, correspondence, and exchange—to challenge public discourse surrounding ‘The Woman Question.’ Much scholarship on gender and science recuperates female contributors, yet, dependent on canonical texts and traditional forms of publication, maintains separate spheres and secondary roles. In contrast, “The Second Science” highlights the egalitarian exchange networks that informed scientific practice and the material forms through which such practices developed, revealing the porousness of our entrenched paradigms of domesticity and scientific professionalism. By digging into botanical and zoological archives, the dissertation interrogates this culture of circulation and specimen in the novels of Maria Edgeworth, George Eliot, and Olive Schreiner and through the photographic books of Anna Atkins, tracing an arc of feminist natural inquiry across a century in which new scientific theories of classification, environment, and development arose alongside contested questions about a woman’s place in a changing world. For these authors, plants sent by post and polyps plucked for home aquaria became intellectual currency, opening unexpected channels into public debate about sex difference (or what we now call gender) from within the family parlor. Material practice with the methods and tools of natural history then led the three novelists in the dissertation to develop in their fiction experimental orientations to female character through which they could critique and re-imagine women’s rights and roles in society. By examining these literary experiments, “The Second Science” proposes an expanded feminist genealogy of nineteenth-century women writers who undertake scientific inquiry to challenge contemporary ideas about a woman’s nature as a means of social reform.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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