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Estudios de Doctorado > Tesis doctorales UAB

Elena Serrano Jerez
Science for Women in the Spanish Enlightenment 1753-1808
Director/es: Agustí Nieto-Galan
Fecha de lectura: 03-07-2012

This dissertation explores women’s involvement in shaping the Spanish eighteenth-century scientific culture. In particular, it analyses the role of women in knowledge circulation both as actors and as audiences and it puts special emphasis on highlighting the complex relations between science, gender, economy and politics. It is structured around four social sites: the city, the country-house, the nursery-room and the library.

In the city, I focus on the activities of the Junta de Damas, the women’s branch of the Madrid Economic Society (Real Sociedad Económica Matritense de Amigos del País) during the 1790s. Backed by the crown, these powerful ladies were involved in chemistry research activities, such as colouring and bleaching textiles, trials on baby-feeding food and air-purification of jail cells. Due to their dual social condition of being women and aristocrats, they were able to create an active network that connected scientific and charitable societies, politicians, doctors, academics, men of letters, and craftsmen.

In the country-house, I analyse how women shaped the practices, values and public image of economic agriculture, a broadly defined science which encompassed agricultural knowledge, botany, chemistry, healing practices, domestic economy, artisan skills, and rural architecture. Women’s role in these productive tasks made them a key target of the discourses of reformist elites. In particular, I will analyse the widely read Semanario which published two treatises on botany and chemistry for female audiences and some articles authored by women

In the nursery-room, I will explore a new eighteenth-century commodity, children’s books. I show the role that these books would have played in women’s science education and women’s crucial involvement in spreading contemporary knowledge and values.

Finally, in the library I analyse a popular science book among female audiences, the Spectacle de la nature, to show how its Spanish translation was used to reinforce the oeconomicus role of women. I will also address some scientific and educative women’s translations.  
This dissertation has three goals. First, it intends to offer a fresh picture of Spanish Enlightenment sites of inquiry and invention where women become visible. Secondly, through the use of new primary sources, it aims to answer fundamental questions such as how knowledge circulates or how the public image of science is constructed and the role of gender in these processes. And finally, it aims to contribute to ongoing debates which question the proper definition of science. I would like to demonstrate that beyond accredited institutions, scientific knowledge was created, transferred and appropriated and women had a role in all these processes. By showing the complex ways in which gender, science, politics and economy were interlinked in late eighteenth-century Spain, I hope to cast light on definition of science itself.