ENGL 347: Biographies of Women Scientists
MW 2:30-4:20 p.m.
No restrictions; no prerequisites
The lack of a counter-part to the term “women scientists” in the course title suggests “scientists” is covertly gendered. But make no mistake–this course is not a feminist study of scientists or science. Rather, this course means to go beyond feminist theory even though it concerns writing about women scientists. The reading includes the biographies of the Polish physicist Marie Curie, American geneticist Barbara McClintock, British biophysicist Rosalind Franklin, as well as the memoir of the American (male) geneticist James Watson, in which he candidly describes the ways in which male scientists perceived and talked about their female colleagues in his time and milieu. These representatives of three generations of women scientists made significant contributions to science. Curie was awarded two Nobel Prizes; McClintock, one; and one of the research programs in which Franklin was the major contributor was also awarded a Nobel. Shifts can be observed in the literary treatments of these women scientists from scientific hero to scientific heroine, from feminist hero to anti-feminist heroine. The focus of discussion is the gain and loss in treating these scientists first as women and then scientists, or first as scientists then women, or simply as scientists. At the end of the quarter, when you are equipped with sufficient knowledge, the discussion takes up the objectivity of scientific practice and whether scientific knowledge has a gender, as the notable rhetorician of science Evelyn Fox-Keller claims.