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Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of Science: An Astronomer Among the American Romantics Hardcover – April 1, 2008

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Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of Science: An Astronomer Among the American Romantics + Maria Mitchell: The Soul of an Astronomer
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807021423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807021422
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #841,999 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


The best thing in its line since Dava Sobel's Longitude. Bergland tells a great, if too little known, story of an intellectual woman in nineteenth-century New England. And it is beautifully told: I simply could not put it down. Anyone who cares about women's education in America should read this compelling and indispensable book. —Robert D. Richardson, author of Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind, Emerson: The Mind on Fire, and William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism

"Renée Bergland recounts the story of Maria Mitchell's life and work in glorious and careful detail. One feels and hears the sounds of Mitchell's native Nantucket and her adopted Vassar, and comes to understand how one of the 'gentler sex' advanced astronomy in her day."—Londa Schiebinger, author of Has Feminism Changed Science?

About the Author

Renée Bergland teaches English and Gender/Cultural Studies at Simmons College and holds a research appointment in Women's and Gender Studies at Harvard. President of the New England American Studies Association and a former Fulbright scholar, she received a "We the People" grant from the NEH for her work on Maria Mitchell. She is author of The National Uncanny: Indian Ghosts and American Subjects, and co-editor (with Gary Williams) of Philosophies of Sex: Critical Essays on the Hermaphrodite. She has also written for the Boston Globe, L.A. Times, and Washington Post.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Truebenbach on November 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of Science" is much more than a biography. Mitchell lived at a pivotal time of social change and, rather than being a backdrop to the story, those changes are as much a part of the story as Mitchell herself. The story moves from Mitchell's early nineteenth century childhood in the Quaker dominated whaling community of Nantucket Island, through Mitchell's tour of Europe and her visits to the renowned scientists and authors of the time, and on to her becoming the first Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College and the first president of the American Association for the Advancement of Women. Mitchell witnessed the the effects of the Civil War and Emancipation on the Women's Rights movement, but, most notably, she witnessed the transition from recreational parlor science to modern professional science and the way in which women became excluded from scientific education and achievement. This book explores a fascinating period of change in American education and in the history of science that is little understood today, even though it has shaped the cultural attitudes that still make it difficult for women to take an equal place in scientific endeavors. The book reads rather like a thesis paper, but is well researched and reasoned and is an easy and enjoyable read.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. Meyer on April 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book tells the improbable but true story of a woman--Maria Mitchell--who grew up in a poor family of 9 children in Nantucket to become one of America's most notable astronomers and scientists of the 19th century. Mitchell's big break comes when one night in October 1847 she peers through a telescope on her roof to discover a comet (the kind that will visit us once and never again return to our solar system). Despite unsought fame resulting from her discovery, she continues to live in Nantucket working as a librarian at a classic "athenaeum" for learning and accepting a post as official navigational "computer" of the movements of Venus, before eventually traveling to meet other great intellects in Europe and serving her later years as a professor at the newly created Vassar College (where she lived spartanly for years on a cot in the observatory). Renee Bergland seamlessly stitches an intriguing account of life in old Nantucket, the emergence of astronomy as a true scientific and mathematic discipline, and the daunting challenge facing Mitchell--and women in general--to gain acceptance as scientific inquest increasingly professionalized from the "parlor" to more formal academic settings. Mitchell herself reflects in her diary on the character it takes to maintain intellectual independence against the pressures of indolence and social conformity: "When we consider ... how short is life and how much shorter are the petty vexation of life, it seems strange that we should not act up to our convictions of duty and disregard what may be said of us by our fellow men. For what is my neighbor more than that I should succumb to his view in preference to my own? And what possible good can come to me from such submission?Read more ›
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By Chela on July 30, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An eye-opener in many ways, I could not put it down! Maria Mitchell was a guiding light and a truth-seeker among the giants of her era. In the life of Maria Mitchell, Renee Bergland captured a moment in time when American culture was at a crossroads. The Oneness of Spirit and nature - science and religion - body, mind and soul - the unity of all dualities - could be seen for a brief moment on the stage of American life in the Mitchell family in Nantucket. Bergland put it thus: "For Mitchell, the mission to 'face the light' and 'seek only for the truth' was urgent. She hoped for great revelations in time -- a chance to leap over the gulf that seemed to separate the physical from the spiritual." Mitchell through Bergland is an inspiration for all truth-seekers who hope for a return to the true American spirit in global culture today. The Quakers, Unitarians and Transcendentalists in American history built a solid foundation, preparing the way for Self realization - the merging of East and West within and without. Let us never forget and always strive to express equal opportunity for women in science and humanities.
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