Renaissance and Reformation Women and Science
by
Alix Cooper
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0044

Introduction

Until relatively recently, women were seen as having played little part in the “Scientific Revolution” of the 16th and 17th centuries. Textbook narratives of the transformations in astronomy and physics inaugurated by Nicolaus Copernicus (b. 1473–d. 1543) and brought to completion by Isaac Newton (b. 1642–d. 1727) told a heroic story of the intellectual achievements of exceptional men of genius. Over the past several decades, however, research investigating the actual practice of science during this period—or, to be more accurate, the wide range of activities we nowadays see as comprising natural science—has revealed a multitude of ways in which women were, in fact, involved in the production of natural knowledge. As historians of science have shown, women of the early modern period carried out astronomical observations, conducted experimental procedures in distillation, theorized about the nature of nature, and even traveled vast distances in order to study the flora and fauna of far-off places. Scholars examining early modern social and cultural patterns that excluded women, and there were many, have also discovered numerous factors that enabled women of this period to participate in natural inquiry. Studies of the role of ideas of gender more broadly in early modern ideas of “nature” have further enriched understanding of women and science.

General Overviews

Quite a few excellent books and articles are now available that survey this topic; much good work has also appeared in edited collections of papers.

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