A One-day Interdisciplinary Seminar
Nottingham Trent University
To be held Saturday 3rd March 2012
* REVISED DEADLINE FOR PROPOSALS: 20th November 2011 *
It is often assumed, in both scholarly and popular accounts of travel and travel writing, that scientific travel and exploration was a male preserve until at least the late twentieth century. The same received wisdom, moreover, assumes that the many women travellers of earlier eras invariably travelled in a more desultory and dilettante fashion – as devotees of the ‘picturesque’, for example, or as ‘sentimental’ tourists. Recent scholarship, however, has begun to question and problematize these stereotypical views, especially in relation to some late 19th-century women travellers. As several studies have shown, figures such as Isabella Bird and Mary Kingsley undoubtedly made important contributions to contemporary science, although the gender norms of their day usually required them to be self-deprecating and to disclaim the highly esteemed label of ‘explorer’.
Less well-known, however, are Bird and Kingsley’s many precursors in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Maria Graham, for example, became in 1824 the first woman to publish in the Transactions of the Geological Society, when she contributed a report on an earthquake she had witnessed in Chile. Sarah Bowdich, meanwhile, accompanied her husband Thomas on an expedition to Gambia in 1822, and made numerous scientific discoveries in her own right.
Female Explorers: Women’s Scientific Travelling, 1750-1850 is intended as an interdisciplinary seminar which can shed further light on these precursors to Bird and Kingsley. We accordingly seek papers exploring any aspect of the intersections between women, science, travel and travel writing in this period. We anticipate that this will include topics such as:
- women who travelled in a scientific spirit, conducting fieldwork or other forms of research (and please note this includes women of any nationality: British, French, American, Italian, German etc)
- women who used travel writing as means of engaging with, or contributing to, contemporary scientific debate
- the discursive and rhetorical difficulties faced in this period by women in adopting a scientific persona on the page
- the larger European- and even worldwide networks which enabled and assisted women’s participation in contemporary science. Please note that this could also include papers on some of the men who worked most closely with women in this period: Hooker in Britain, for example, or Cuvier in France.
To propose a paper, or for any other enquiries, please contact Dr Carl Thompson at Nottingham Trent University (email:
Dr Carl Thompson
Senior Lecturer and Tutor for Admissions in English
Nottingham Trent University