by Tamara Caulkins* On May 20, 2014, the OSU Department of Mathematics sponsored a history lecture by Dr. David Pengelley, of New Mexico State University. Dr. Pengelley presented an animated lecture on the French mathematician, Sophie Germain (1776-1831). Dr. Pengelley’s interest in Germain was sparked by his use of primary historical sources in his teaching of mathematics. This led him to a store of Germain’s original manuscripts at the National Library of France, which had not been studied in over two hundred years. Revisiting Germain’s work as a mathematician, Dr. Pengelley found that Germain had developed a sophisticated plan for proving Fermat’s Last Theorem, making significant contributions to number theory. Until recently, her work was known only via a footnote in another mathematician’s treatise (Legendre, Essai sur la Théorie des Nombres, 1823). Particularly in an age when women were not well-educated and when they were excluded from scientific academies, Germain’s substantial achievements were indeed remarkable.
Sophie Germain was only thirteen when the French Revolution broke out, forcing her to spend most of her time indoors. During that period, she turned to her father’s library. Fascinated by books on mathematics, she taught herself against her parent’s wishes (Pengelley relates that at one point they even took away her clothes and candles to prevent her from studying at night!). Germain’s father was a silk merchant so it was not through his mentorship that she developed her abilities but rather through her own effort and perseverance. At one point, Germain took on the identity of a student at the École Polytechnique who had died (Antoine-August LeBlanc). When the professor discovered that it was really a woman who was submitting such fine work under LeBlanc’s name, he was astonished. Germain eventually corresponded with Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) in Göttingen, one of the most celebrated mathematicians of the time. Pengelley recounts that upon receiving a letter from Germain, Gauss praised the way she contributed to the “charms of this sublime science,” as giving him great joy. Continue reading →
On Wednesday, February 19th, Dr. Dagmar Herzog, of the City University of New York, graced Oregon State with her lecture, “Sexuality in Europe: A 20th-Century History and a History of the Present.” She offered a lighthearted but academically thorough treatment of themes in European understandings of sexuality. In her lecture, Dr. Herzog focused on two concerns: first, the history and periodization of sexuality in the 20th Century and second, recent history and the path into the future.
After noting that “people are still made tense by a free and open discussion of sexuality,” Dr. Herzog launched into her talk, reminding the audience that the 20th Century has been called the “century of sex.” As such, the century has been characterized by a general liberalizing trend punctuated with sexually conservative backlashes. Sex, Dr. Herzog argued, became built into everything. Identity, privacy, civil rights, secularization, commerce and politics have internalized sex as a key theme. “Sex ends up annexing” almost every part of life in 20th Century Europe.
Words are potent. Words can awaken memories, stir emotions and quiet the mind. Words have been used in the creation of groundswells that burst forth to bring down stalwart walls of injustice as well as to buttress vast empires: Word-for-word, Brick-by-brick. In her lecture, Dr. Nicole Archambeau examined the concept of the voice as a relic. How ‘mere words’ of admittedly melodic meter, manifested within the human body, and alleviated physiological and psychological distress during an era rife with mercenary invasions that razed fifteen cities, populations forced to languish under waves of plague and that eventually saw the erosion of the Treaty of Brétigny and the continuation of the Hundred Years’ War.
After parsing through medieval canonization inquests and Articles of Interrogation in order to divine how people foresaw and negotiated the curative continuum from medico to physico in their attempt to heal and restore the spirit, Dr. Archambeau chose the life of Delphine of Glandèves, more commonly known as the Blessed Delphine, as a paragon of 14th century healing pluralities. Delphine was a countess who was alleged to have the ability to mediate miracles through the melodic meter of her voice. As a miracle mediator, Delphine offered a distinctive healing option from the ‘despairing doctor trope’ that did not sanction the giving of false hope to those suffering from illness. The wife of newly canonized Saint Elzéar of Sabran, Delphine was not a doctrinaire and did not tout that she possessed any medicinal knowledge. Nevertheless, during her canonization inquest, Master Durand Andre testified that through her voice, Delphine touched him from the inside and he felt contrition, compunction and consolation. As Archambeau articulated in her lecture, witnesses for Delphine’s candidacy for canonization related to the papal court that Delphine ministered miraculous healing that actively managed the care of their soul, a vital part of personal health. Continue reading →
Take the poll! You can choose four! In honor of Women’s History Month, we are taking a moment to ask ourselves who inspires us most among notable women of science? There are lots of ways I could have asked this. I could have asked, “who were the most influential women in science?” Or “Whose ideas were the most important?” Or “Who did the most for women’s participation in the scientific enterprise?” All of these are important questions, but I left it vague. Please vote for up to four, and please take a moment to explain why in the comments. Also, contact me if you think I should add someone to the list. Obviously it is a very limited list, only twenty, taken from my own courses on the history of science. Although it starts here in March 2012, I’ll leave the poll up. Continue reading →
Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, led a remarkable — and controversial — life, writing poetry and prose and philosophizing on the natural world at a time when women were denied any means of a formal education. Lisa T. Sarasohn acutely examines the brilliant work of this untrained mind and explores the unorthodox development of her natural philosophy.
Cavendish wrote copiously on such wide-ranging topics as gender, power, manners, scientific method, and animal rationality. The first woman to publish her own natural philosophy, Cavendish was not afraid to challenge the new science and even ridiculed the mission of the Royal Society. Her philosophy reflected popular culture and engaged with the most radical philosophies of her age. To understand Cavendish’s scientific thought, Sarasohn explains, is to understand the reception of new knowledge through both insider and outsider perspectives in early modern England.
In close readings of Cavendish’s writings — poetry, treatises, stories, plays, romances, and letters — Sarasohn explores the fantastic and gendered elements of her natural philosophy. Cavendish saw knowledge as a continuum between reason and fancy, and her work integrated imaginative speculation and physical science. Because she was denied the university education available to her male counterparts, she embraced an epistemology that favored contemplation and intuition over logic and empiricism.
The Natural Philosophy of Margaret Cavendish serves as a guide to the unusual and complex philosophy of one of the seventeenth century’s most intriguing minds. It not only celebrates Cavendish as a true figure of the scientific age but also contributes to a broader understanding of the contested nature of the scientific revolution.
Oregon State University Associate Professor of History Dr. Mina Carson is the third person this year to have presented work supported by the Resident Scholar Program at OSU Libraries. A professor of American Social and Cultural History, Carson’s research interests have thus far included the Progressive and New Deal eras, the gay and lesbian movements and the recent history of women in music. A licensed social worker, Dr. Carson has also written and lectured on the history of psychotherapy in western Europe and the United States.
Her latest project hits closer to home for those of us working in the Pauling collection: Dr. Carson is in the early stages of researching and writing the first full-length biography of Ava Helen Pauling. (read more at PaulingBlog)
This blog keeps track of recent activities among faculty and students in Oregon State's unique program in History of Science. We have numerous course offerings for undergraduates, and we offer opportunities to pursue Master's and Doctoral degrees. Have fun reading!