poinciana pulcherrima

Londa Schiebinger

Londa L. Schiebinger (born 1952) is a leading international authority on gender and science. She is John L. Hinds Professor of History of Science and the Barbara D. Finberg Director of the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. Previously, at Pennsylvania State University, she and her husband, Robert N. Proctor, co-directed the Science, Medicine and Technology in Culture Program for nine years. The couple met at Harvard, where they earned their master's and doctoral degrees in 1977 and 1984, respectively.

Over the past twenty years, Schiebinger’s work has focused on three analytically distinct but interlocking pieces of the gender and science puzzle: the history of women’s participation in science; the structure of scientific institutions; and the gendering of human knowledge. Her current work explores how gender analysis, when turned to science and technology, can spark creativity by opening new questions and fields for future research.

Major works

The Mind Has No Sex? Women in the Origins of Modern Science (1989)

analyzes the rise of modern science in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the circumstances which led to the exclusion of women. It is significant that between 1650 and 1710, fourteen percent of German astronomers were women; today this figure stands at about eight percent. Schiebinger argues that in regard to women, science is not a neutral culture. In the modern sexual division of labor that crystallized in the eighteenth century, science was part of the terrain that fell to the male sex. Scientists sought to distance themselves from things defined as feminine, including women.

This book explains why and how western societies came to define women’s poor representation in science as failings of female biology rather than resulting from social arrangements and attitudes. Schiebinger tells the story of the first anatomical drawings of the female skeleton. Although drawn from nature with painstaking exactitude, political circumstances drew immediate attention to depictions of the skull as a measure of intelligence and the pelvis as a measure of womanliness. Women’s narrow skulls seemed to vanquish them from the science while their capacious pelvises were thought to destine them for hearth and home.

Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science (1993; 2004) goes beyond the analysis of scientific misreadings of women’s bodies (those “skeletons in the closet of science” from the earlier book) to look specifically at the third aspect of her analytic triad, namely, how scientific knowledge is gendered. The question of women engaging in science is not just a question of equality—that all people should have an equal opportunity to pursue careers of their choosing. Nor is it a question of “manpower,” having enough scientists to sharpen a chosen nation's competitive edge. It is a question of knowledge. This book investigates how the politics of participation mold science and human knowledge more generally.

This book explores how gender—both the real relations between the sexes and ideological renderings of those relations—shaped European science in the eighteenth century. Schiebinger’s chapters analyze the sexuality of plants (said to celebrate steamy nuptials on softly perfumed pedaled beds), why mammals are called mammals (the “breasted ones” were to be barred from citizenship, science, and public power), the gendering of apes, and rise of scientific racism and sexism. It is remarkable, for instance, that a secondary sexual characteristic, such as the lushness (or lack) of beards, emerged as one trait sorting males into distinct races. It is shocking that women’s manipulative hands were thought to form racial characteristics—head shape, the contours of lips and noses.

Has Feminism Changed Science? (1999) provides a comprehensive review of the scholarship on women and gender in science. This work presents three sections paralleling Schiebinger’s three levels of analysis: “Women in Science,” “Gender in the Culture of Science,” and “Gender in Substance of Science.” Schiebinger’s current work (gendered innovations in science and engineering) follows up on her third section that explores how identifying gender in knowledge systems can create better science. She provides exemplary case studies of how removing gender bias can open science to new perspectives, new questions, and new missions. Science, as she has argued, represents our best approximation of truth in a particular time and place. “Truth” and “objectivity” represent lofty goals that require continuous vigilance to attain. These goals are not achieved when systematic prejudices are allowed to continue without challenge. Researchers are best able to approximate truth and objectivity by becoming aware of systematic preconceptions and biases—of which gender has been (and in some quarters continues to be) a powerful one. Gender analysis (in its myriad aspects) becomes one tool among the many that scientists deploy to better understand the universe in all its complexities.

Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World (2004) returns to the eighteenth century and investigates the gender politics of plants. This book explores the movement, mixing, and extinction of botanic knowledge in early modern encounters between Europeans and the peoples of the Caribbean. It discusses how gender relations in Europe and its West Indian colonies guided European naturalists as they selected particular plants and technologies for transport back to Europe. The plant whose history provides the leitmotif of this book, the peacock flower (Poinciana pulcherrima), is not a heroic plant of the historical stature of chocolate, the potato, quinine, coffee, or tea. Nonetheless it was a highly political plant, deployed in the struggle against slavery throughout the eighteenth century by Amerindian and African slave women who used it to abort offspring who would otherwise be born into bondage. The story of the peacock flower is presented as a case study of agnotology—a new approach in the history of science that emphasizes the study of cultural ignorances as a counterweight to more traditional concerns about epistemology. Although abortifacients were highly prized and widely used in the Caribbean, they were not imported into Europe as useful or profitable plants. Trade winds of prevailing opinion impeded knowledge of New World abortifacients from reaching Europe. Here in this bit of history that did not come to pass we find a prime example of culturally cultivated ignorance—the unspoken but distinct configuration of events that converge to leave certain forms of knowledge unplucked from the tree of life.

"Gendered Innovations in Science and Engineering" (2008, Stanford University Press). Edited by Londa Schiebinger.

"Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance" (2008, Stanford University Press). Edited by Robert N. Proctor and Londa Schiebinger. 2008


2004 Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World (Harvard University Press). Foreign Translation: Japanese (Kosakusha Publishing Co., in progress). Winner of the Prize in Atlantic History, American Historical Association, 2005, and the Alf Andrew Heggoy Book Prize, French Colonial Historical Society, 2005.
2004 Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics, edited by Londa Schiebinger and Claudia Swan (University of Pennsylvania Press).
2004 Nature's Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press)--new edition.
2001 Feminism in Twentieth-Century Science, Technology, and Medicine, edited by Angela Creager, Elizabeth Lunbeck, and Londa Schiebinger (University of Chicago Press).
2001 Oxford Companion to the Body, edited by Colin Blakemore and Sheila Jennett; Section editors Alan Cuthbert, Roy Porter, Tom Sears, Londa Schiebinger, and Tilli Tansey (Oxford University Press).
2000 Feminism and the Body, edited by Londa Schiebinger; a collection of essays by Janet Browne, Sander Gilman, Lynn Hunt, Thomas Laqueur, Marina Warner, and others (Oxford University Press).
1999 Has Feminism Changed Science? Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Foreign Translations: Japanese (Kosakusha Publishing Co., 2002); German (München: Beck Verlag, 2000); Portuguese (Editora da Universidade do Sagrado Coração, 2001); Korean (Dulnyouk Publishing Co., 2002).
1993 Nature's Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science (Boston: Beacon Press). Foreign Translations: Japanese (Tokyo: Kosakusha Publishing Co., 1996); German (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta Verlag, 1995); and Hungarian (in preparation). Winner of the Ludwik Fleck Book Prize, Society for Social Studies of Science, 1995.
1989 The Mind Has No Sex? Women in the Origins of Modern Science (Cambridge: Harvard University Press). Foreign Translations: Japanese (Tokyo: Kosakusha Publishing Co., 1992); German (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta Verlag, 1993); Chinese (Taipei: Yuan-Liou Publishing); Portuguese (Lisbon: Pandora Ediçioes, 2001); and Greek (Athens: Katoptro, 2003).


Prizes and Awards

  • Prize in Atlantic History, American Historical Association, 2005, for Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World (2004).
  • Alf Andrew Heggoy Book Prize, French Colonial Historical Society, 2005. for Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World (2004).
  • J. Worth Estes Prize for the History of Pharmacology, American Association for the History of Medicine, 2005, for Feminist History of Colonial Science," Hypatia (2004).
  • Alexander von Humboldt Research Prize, Berlin, 1999-2000 (first woman historian to win this senior prize).
  • Faculty Scholar's Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts and Humanities, Pennsylvania State University, 2000.
  • National Science Foundation, Grant for Graduate Training and Research, 2001-2004.
  • National Science Foundation Scholars Award, 2002-2004.
  • Senior Research Fellow, Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin, 1999-2000.
  • National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine Fellowship, Spring 1998.
  • Claire Booth Luce Foundation, Scholarships Grant, for Women in the Sciences and Engineering Institute, PSU, 1996-98.
  • National Science Foundation Scholars Award, 1991-1993, 1996.
  • Alumni Outstanding Achievement Award, University of Nebraska, 1996.
  • Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, 1995.
  • Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Officer's Grant, for the WISE Institute, PSU, 1995.
  • Class of 1933 Distinction in the Humanities Award, PSU, 1994.
  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow, 1991-92.
  • Award for Enhancement of Undergraduate Instruction, PSU, 1991.
  • American Council of Learned Societies, Summer 1989.
  • Rockefeller Foundation Humanist-in-Residence, Rutgers U., 1988-89.
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellowship, 1986-87.
  • Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, 1985-1986.
  • Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst Grant, Summer 1985.
  • Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, Woodrow Wilson Foundation, 1983-84.
  • Marion and Jasper Whiting Fellowship, Paris, Summer 1982.
  • Fulbright-Hayes Graduate Scholar in Germany, 1980-81.
  • History of Women in Science Prize, History of Science Society, 1994, for "Why Mammals are Called Mammals," American Historical Review (1993).
  • Roy C. Buck Essay Prize, PSU, 1990, for "The Anatomy of Difference: Race and Gender in Eighteenth-Century Science," 18th-Century Studies.

See also



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