York professors launch book on science, gender and visual culture

A book launch will take place today to celebrate the publication of Figuring It Out: Science, Gender, and Visual Culture. The publication, edited by York Professors Ann Shteir and Bernard Lightman, was published Dec. 2006 by Dartmouth College Press/University Press of New England. The launch party will take place from 3 to 5pm, at Norman’s, 201 Bethune College on York’s Keele campus.

As editors, Shteir and Lightman collected 15 original essays that analyze gender in the imagery of science. The essays contributed by York faculty members Naomi Adelson, Lorraine Code, Margo Gewutz, Bernard Lightman, Janine Marchessault, Ann Shteir and Joan Steigerwald arose from a Gerstein Advanced Research Seminar which took place at York University in 2001 and 2002.

In light of recent debates about the culture of contemporary science and the place of women in scientific fields, Figuring It Out: Science, Gender, and Visual Culture offers a timely consideration of the role of gender in the imagery of modern Western science. Representing a wide array of interdisciplinary fields, the contributors focus on pictures of male and female figures as a way to study the workings of gender in science while using gender as a way to examine how visual images in science contain and convey meanings.

Roughly chronological in organization, part one focuses on mythological and metaphorical depictions of gender in early frontispieces, while part two looks at realistic images such as photos, illustrations and exhibits from the 19th century. Part three highlights the workings of cultural norms of gender in 20th-century science, illustrated through discussions of photos, television shows, advertising and digital imagery. A common theme in the book is an emphasis on questions of representation and interpretive problems such as agency and identity. The volume explores a host of themes, including the gendered cultures of science and medicine, technologies of display, and the role of sexualities and sexual difference in the construction of figural vocabularies of science.

Sumptuously illustrated, this collection will appeal to scholars and students of the history of science, women’s studies, art history, literature and interdisciplinary fields.

Shteir is a professor of humanities and women’s studies at York and author of Cultivating Women, Cultivating Science: Flora’s Daughters and Botany in England, 1760-1860 (1996). Lightman is a professor of humanities at York, author of The Origins of Agnosticism: Victorian Unbelief and the Limits of Knowledge (1987), and editor of the journal Isis.

Funding for the Gerstein Seminar, a subsequent conference and toward the publication of this book came from the Gerstein Foundation; Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada; and York University’s School of Women’s Studies, Division of Humanities, Office of the Vice-President Academic, Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, Centre for Feminist Research and the Dean’s Office of the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies and Faculty of Arts.