Women in Science and Medicine, 1400–1800

Authored by: Alisha Rankin

The Ashgate Research Companion to Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe

Print publication date:  April  2013
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9781409418177
eBook ISBN: 9781315613765
Adobe ISBN: 9781317041054


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Scholarship on women in late medieval and early modern science and medicine has gone through a drastic evolution in the last four decades. Until the 1970s, the historiography of this period tended to focus almost exclusively on the activities of a few exceptional men involved in the series of developments frequently termed the Scientific Revolution. Despite a handful of early works engaging with the contributions of women to scientific and medical endeavours, by and large the history of science and medicine left women out altogether. 1 1

Early works surveying the role of women include Hurd-Mead, 1938 (which contains many inaccuracies and should be approached with caution); and Hughes, 1943.

That approach began to change in the 1970s and 1980s, as revisionist works by feminist historians coincided with a general trend in the field away from positivist histories of the inevitable march of scientific progress. The result was, on one hand, new studies of women who were active in scientific and medical endeavours, and, on the other, examinations of philosophical and medical perceptions of gender, women and the female body. While works from the 1970s and 1980s tended to include ambitious and broad studies highlighting the rampant misogyny in early modern science and medicine, recent scholarship has tended more towards close, contextual analyses of specific areas in which women – or ideas about them – made an impact. This chapter provides an overview of all of these historiographical trends.

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