Sarah Bowdich Lee (1791-1856) and Pioneering Perspectives on Natural History

Sarah Bowdich Lee (1791-1856) and Pioneering Perspectives on Natural History

By Mary Orr

Anthem Studies in Travel Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

This first book-length appraisal of the pioneering perspectives of Sarah Bowdich Lee (1791–1856) on natural history in the first half of the nineteenth century pivotally highlights the intercultural, interdisciplinary and multi-genre reach of her work. The fact that she undertook it independently and transnationally over three decadeschallenges approaches to women, gender and national nineteenth-century scientific endeavour that have defined women at work in the period by their secondary roles (to more famous men in science) that also delimit their contributions and discoveries(as domestic). By focusing on how Sarah undertook her science despite the many bars to women in its fields, this study also promotes one woman’s blueprint for non-conformist independent work and, in consequence, an alternative paradigm for the ‘leaky pipeline’ model still informing women’s careers in STEM(M) today.

EPUB, 250 Pages


July 2024

£25.00, $35.00

PDF, 250 Pages


July 2024

£25.00, $35.00

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About This Book

History from below has particular advantages. It uncovers overlooked protagonists in (inter)national endeavour for their importance and wider significance, and plots triumphs of discovery and contribution to knowledge where they are supposed not to occur. One such figure is (British-born) Sarah née Wallace, Mrs T. Edward Bowdich then Mrs R. Lee (1791–1856). Despite her multiple contributions to new natural history and its publication in both France and Britain in the first half of the nineteenth century, no monograph study has attended to her life’s workin independent natural history-making for its interdisciplinary range and perspectives, or explored its intercultural significance through the double contexts of expert French and British natural history and publication.
• In making good these omissions, this book does much more than provide a first concerted recuperation and examination of Sarah’s unbrokenproduction of science publications from 1825 until her death in 1856 that intermediated ‘French’ and ‘British’ natural history in several new fields and in multiple genres. More importantly, the focus is on how Sarah’s expert productivity was also achieved, when she had to overcome significant scientific losses – of new specimens from the field,of major international mentors – severally in her ‘career’. If these lynch-pin moments frame the three main sections of the book, and the chapters each contain, the larger story of Sarah’s overcoming and successes form a case study that can better draw attention to the circumstances and conditions in which Sarah’s largely unheralded contributions and triumphs were achieved. Since at least one ‘small’ achievement in scientific endeavour merges in each chapter, the record can be set straight concerning Sarah’s importance at the forefront of new sub-disciplines in French as well as British science from the 1820s to the 1850s, for example, ichthyology (in Part One), ethnography (in Part Two) and science dissemination and education (in Part Three).
• The lynch-pin moments and framing conditions of production informing them add significant creative and pragmatic twists to an alternative story for expert science and natural history-makingthat overcomes seemingly impossible personal and sociocultural odds irrespective of gender. Sarah’s multiple non-conformism then makes for a fascinating case study and historical precedent for re-examining women’s independent contributions in the history of nineteenth-century science as precedent-setting by comparison with ‘leaky pipeline’ modelling for women’s careers and work in STEM(M) today. The book’s closing inquiry thus calls for new perspectives following Sarah’s example, to challenge the understanding of ‘serious’ natural history-making as inclusive of inter medial forms. The possibility, creativity and distinction of Sarah’s story is the distinguishing feature of this book.


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Author Information

Mary Orr is the Buchanan Chair of French at the University of St Andrews. Her specialist research in nineteenth-century French studies connects its literatures, histories and cultures, and includesthe natural and earth sciences in their ambit.


Anthem Studies in Travel

Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

Table of Contents

‘Mrs Sarah’, 1824: Introduction to Standout Women in Comparative Natural History; Part One: Canvassing Cuvier, Chapter One: AFirst Natural History of the Fishes of West Africa in the Excursions dans les Isles de Madère et de Porto Santo (1826); Chapter Two: A First Natural History of Fishes Illustrated from the Life in The Fresh-Water Fishes of Great Britain (1828–38); Chapter Three: A First Scientific Biography ‘from a Woman’s Pen’: The Memoirs of Baron Cuvier (1833); Part Two: Harnessing Humboldt, Chapter Four: A First (Plant) Geography of the Gambia: Excursions in Madeira and Porto Santo (1825); Chapter Five: A Foremost (Woman) Explorer’s First-Hand ‘Notes’: Stories of Strange Lands and Fragments from the Notes of a Traveller (1835); Chapter Six: A Refit for Larger Scientific Purpose? Pioneering Natural History Fiction Abroad and at Home in The African Wanderers (1837); Part Three: Opening Access to Expert Natural History, Chapter Seven: Scientific Illustration Second to None: Doubly Expert Pen and Ink, and the Foremost Uses of (Water) Colour; Chapter Eight: Textbook Natural History: Elements of Natural History (1844; 1850) and New Paradigms for Science Pedagogy; Chapter Nine: ‘Just an Anecdote’? Pioneering Perspectives from the Life in Anecdotes of the Habits and Instincts of Animals (1852), Anecdotes of the Habits and Instincts of Birds, Reptiles and Fishes (1853) and Sir Thomas the Cornish Baronet (1856); Sarah Bowdich Lee and Pioneering Perspectives in Natural History: Lessons forToday; Appendices (1–9); Bibliography; Index


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