Literary Histories of Science: Race, Gender, and Class

full name / name of organization: 
Leila A. McNeill/MMLA 2015 Convention

In the history of science, it has been well-documented that institutionalized science and professional scientific circles actively and systematically excluded people from their ranks based on gender, race, and class. However, what has been underrepresented is the scientific work and endeavors of the marginalized groups themselves. This session seeks to recover some of these excluded voices and stories by investigating the creative, alternative ways that these groups participated in scientific discourse.

Lending a presumed scientific legitimacy to the continued subordination of specific groups, nineteenth-century political economy and evolutionary thought provoked new debates about sexual and racial science and the 'problem' of the working classes. As a result of these active attempts to discredit women, people of color, and the uneducated working class, these groups did not take part in professional scientific societies nor did they have access to education in science and mathematics. Nevertheless, many went on to pursue alternative avenues to write and talk about science that lay outside the boundaries of institutionalized science. Excluded groups often used various literary genres to enter into discussions about science and nature. Moreover, they harnessed these literary forms to subvert, criticize, and comment on the prevailing scientific discourse of institutionalized science. Operating and writing within these boundaries and cultural tensions, they incorporated the interests of a male and European-centric scientific discourse; however, they also claimed ownership of these various literary forms as a site to explore, define, and reshape the self, ultimately creating a distinctive language not just about themselves but about science and nature as well.

This session explores the conference theme through literary histories of science written by women, people of color, and/or the working class that reflect an experience of science and nature that is unique to those groups or individuals. Papers might discuss topics and texts including but not limited to popularizations of science, nature writing, travel writing, female experiences of the sublime, poetry, scientific illustration, pub science, citizen science, fairy/folk tales, science fiction, and speculative fiction.

Please send a 250-500 word abstract to Leila McNeill at by April 5.