WOMEN IN PHYSICS AND MATHEMATICS

Spring 2001 class taught by Nina Byers at the University of California, Los Angeles


Course description (back to top)

The course consists of lectures and discussions including student presentations. The course content is an analytical examination of the emergence of women as significant participants in 20th century physics and mathematics. We will study some women's history, some science, and the lives and accomplishments of some great scientists who were women. Students do scheduled reading and come to class prepared to participate in class discussions.


Course Outline (back to top)

It is only this century that women have become major players in physics and mathematics. To see why this is so, we must study the present from the perspective of the past. Therefore the course will be divided into two segments. The first will be largely historical and the second devoted mainly to the lives and work of women scientists.

Part 1 - Historical segment
The 16th century is commonly taken to be the beginning of the scientific revolution; i.e., modern science as we know it began then. We therefore begin our study with attention to the condition of women in the 16th and 17th centuries - in particular, with a focus on the education of women in these centuries and contrast this with a chronology of the development of physics and mathematics. This was a period of great scientific developments and in this period women were denied access to all but the most rudimentary education.

Then we study various philosophies regarding women's education in the 18th century (Rousseau, Wollstonecraft, and Mill) and continue attention to scientific advances made in this century. Coming to the 19th century we see the vast changes in women's lives owing to the industrial revolution, the proliferation of printing presses and the rise of a feminist movement.

Part 2 - The life of women scientists in the 20th century
We study the lives, work, and conditions of work in the first half of the century of some famous women scientists - Marie Sklodowska Curie, Lise Meitner, Chien-Shiung Wu, Emmy Noether, Kathleen Lonsdale and Dorothy Hodgkin.

We also study the lives and work of more contemporary women including some who are now active. We will have guest lecturers (contemporary physicists and mathematicians) in the last weeks of the course.


Reading List (back to top)

Readings for Weeks 1 and 2 in Course Reader Vol. I

Week 1 - Womens history 1500 - 1800.

Olwen Hufton, "The Prospect Before Her", chapter 1 - 'Constructing Woman'. Rosemary O'Day, {Education and Society 1500-1800}, pp. 182 (last parag.)-195; Antonia Fraser, "The Weaker Vessel" Prologue and chapter 7 - 'Unlearned Virgins'.

Week 2 - Womens history 19th century.

Mary Somerville, "Personal Recollections", Introduction and chapters I-V; Elizabeth C. Patterson, "Mary Somerville 1780-1872" pp. 24-40. Ann Hibner Koblitz, "A Convergence of Lives: Sophia Kovalevskaia 1850 - 1891" Prefaces and chapters 3-6.

Readings for Weeks 3-7 in Course Reader Vol. II.

Week 3 - Readings about physics and its developments 1600 - 1900.

John Ziman, "The Force of Knowledge" chapters 1-7; Hobson, "Physics: Concepts and Connections" chapters 4.4 and 5.1-5.5.

Week 4 - Philosophies on women's education.

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), "Emile" pp. 217-239 - 'Education of Girls'. Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), "Vindication of the Rights of Woman"; John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), "The Subjection of Woman" Introduction and chapter 1.

Week 5

Shulamith Firestone, "The Dialectic of Sex" chapters 1 and 2. Margaret Rossiter, "Women Scientists in America" chapters 1-5.

Week 6 -10

Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, "Nobel Prize Women in Science" chapters 1-4, 6, 10, 11, and 15. Additional reading will be suggested in connection with guest lecturers presentations.


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