Historically, women’s participation in science in all its guises has been hidden away as if it were an unpleasant secret, and yet women managed to contribute in many ways. However, finding them and their papers requires patient and tenacious engagement with archives.
In more modern times with improving education and enlightened attitudes to working women, the barriers to women’s access to science and scientific careers are assumed to have been lifted. But, this simplified version of reality is not reflected in today’s figures, where boys still outnumber girls taking physics and maths ‘A’ level, and where at every step along a career more women than men are lost.
How can we better understand the barriers to participation in the first place, and to persistence in science for women today? Can we really accept the explanation provided by one head teacher of a British girls school, who, when asked why her sixth-form ‘girls’ rarely chose to study physics or maths, responded, ‘Well, perhaps they just don’t like physics’.
One method which lends itself to the study of women and science in the modern era is oral history. It offers a voice to members of society whose story often goes untold; and in science and engineering this voice is often that of women. It allows women to tell their own stories in their own words, but also enables historians to discuss the story with the protagonist, impossible with a paper archive. But oral history also has its critics – accused of not being objective, of being hampered by poor recall or by biased or selective interpretation of events.
This workshop will investigate just how useful oral history can be in finding, revealing and (most importantly) recording the untold stories of modern female scientists. We would like to invite anyone who has experience of using oral history, particularly in the context of history of science and women’s history, and most especially where these two intersect, or who is considering using this method in a project, to join the workshop. There will be three invited papers from experienced oral history practitioners, a collection of shorter presentations and a round table discussion.
If you would like to contribute a short paper (15 minutes per presentation), please send a brief synopsis to Sue Hawkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to register for the event contact Jenni Thomas at Jennifer.Thomas.external@Rothschild.com.