Thesis ID: CBB368756822

The Incorporeal Scientific Method: Gender, Hybridity, and the Rise of Material Science in American Literature, 1840–1900 (2020)


This dissertation demonstrates how nineteenth-century American authors deployed woman-centered fictional narratives to interrogate the rise of materialist epistemology brought about by scientific professionalization. Professionalization, which peaked in the 1840s, transformed American scientific practice by systematically invalidating immaterial sources of knowledge (such as intuition and folk expertise) and aligning the immaterial with feminine ways of knowing, a process that created scientific professions dominated by men and a material scientific method. The fiction I examine engages this trend by turning to the figure of the hybrid woman scientist—women such as the racialized plant-girl of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter” (1844). By tracing the figure of the hybrid woman scientist, I show how writers use her as the nexus where competing nineteenth-century scientific methodologies both stand in opposition to one another and coalesce into a method that rejects a dualistic approach. I draw upon Elizabeth Grosz’s incorporeal, which refers to the “subsistence of the ideal in the material or corporeal,” to define this third option as an incorporeal scientific method. This project alters our understanding of how American writers worked to understand, resist, or uphold the changing epistemologies of scientific practice throughout the nineteenth century. My project’s historicist treatment of the incorporeal method and hybridity provides a prehistory to current scholarship that considers the agency of non-human life by positing the equality of all matter (such as new materialism, posthumanism, and plant studies). Nineteenth-century hybrid women encapsulate the possibility of mixture both between races and between species while also deploying methods that are irreducible to strict materialism or idealism. Consequently, the term hybridity—re-contextualized via nineteenth-century literature—may provide a tool to address critiques that new materialist thought produces an overly reductive ontology and under-theorizes race and gender.

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Authors & Contributors
Oldenziel, Ruth
Canel, Annie
Zachmann, Karin
Gouzévitch, Irina
Cowan, Ruth Schwartz
Pursell, Carroll W.
British Journal for the History of Science
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
History of Psychology
Women's History Review
NTM: Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, Technik und Medizin
Harwood Academic Publishers
Beacon Press
Scarecrow Press
Oxford University Press
University of Chicago Press
University of Rochester Press
Women in science
Science and gender
Professions and professionalization
Maunder, Annie S. D.
Mitchell, Maria
Farnham, Eliza W.
Marcet, Jane
Phelps, Almira Hart Lincoln
Griffin, Delia I.
United States
Great Britain
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
21st century
20th century, late
17th century
Women's Engineering Society
Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory
Du Pont Company

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