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 interdisciplinary appraisal of the pioneering perspectives on the natural history of Sarah Bowdich Lee (1791–1856) pivotally highlights their intercultural and multi-genre dynamics. It thereby challenges approaches to women, gender and national nineteenth-century scientific endeavour by overturning ‘secondary’ or ‘leaky pipeline’ narratives for women in early STEM(M).

Hardback, 250 Pages


May 2023

£80.00, $125.00

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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 knowing 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 dissemination in both France and Britain in the first half of the nineteenth century, no monograph study has attended to her life’s work in natural history for its interdisciplinary range and perspectives or explored its intercultural significance through dissemination in the double contexts of French and British science.

In making good these omissions this book is then much more than a first recuperation and examination of Sarah’s unbroken production of science publications intermediating ‘French’ and ‘British’ natural history in several different fields and multiple genres from 1825 until her death in 1856. Sarah’s productivity was also achieved at a great personal cost: she had to start over ‘from nothing’ several times throughout her ‘career’. These lynch-pin moments frame the three main sections of the book, and the chapters each contain, as a case study that can better draw attention to the circumstances and conditions that Sarah overcame and in which her 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 it add significant creative and pragmatic twists to a story of overcoming seemingly impossible personal and sociocultural odds. Sarah’s is then a fascinating case study and historical precedent for re-examining women’s ‘uneasy careers’ (Abir-Am and Outram, 1989) in the history of science, and ‘leaky pipeline’ modelling in STEM(M) today. The book’s closing inquiry thus calls for new perspectives following Sarah’s example, to challenge the understanding of ‘serious’ vs ‘popular’ and ‘citizen’ science, gender and science and ongoing debate about the ‘quandaries’ of women’s work in scientific fields. 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 literature, histories and cultures including the natural and earth sciences.


Anthem Studies in Travel

Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

Table of Contents

Inter-Chapter One: ‘At Rock Bottom in 1824’?; Part 1: Canvassing Cuvier: Chapter 1: New Discovery and Classification: W. African Fishes in Excursions in Madeira and Porto Santo… 1825, Eng.; 1826, Fr. (Containing Cuvier’s Annotations); Chapter 2: Inter-National Fresh-Water Fish Studies: The Fresh-Water Fishes of Great Britain (1828–38) and Cuvier’s Histoire Naturelle Des Poissons (1828–48); Chapter 3: Scientific Biography with Distinctions: Memoirs of Baron Cuvier (1833, Eng., Fr. and US Editions); Inter-Chapter Two: ‘Doors Shut to French Natural Science’?; Part 2: Harnessing Humboldt: Chapter 4: The First Country Profile of the Gambia: Excursions in Madeira and Porto Santo… (English Ed. 1825; French Ed. 1826, Containing Humboldt’s Essay on the Geologies of Tenerife and Madeira); Chapter 5: Humboldtian ‘Plant Geography’ in West Africa: Stories of Strange Lands (1835) as Studies in Scientific ‘footnotes’; Chapter 6: Remodelling the Intrepid Intercontinental Scientific Explorer: The African Wanderers (1837) and Aventures in Australia (1851, Second Ed. 1853); Chapter 7: Expert Scientific Illustration and the Question of (Water) Colour: Sarah’s Signed and Unsigned Plates and Drawings, 1820–1850; Inter-Chapter 3: (No-)Where Else to Go?’; Part 3: Promoting Instructive Science (À La Cuvier and Humboldt): Chapter 8: ‘Text-Book’ Natural History: Elements of Natural History… (1844; 1850); Chapter 9: ‘Juvenile’ Natural History: Anecdotes of the Habits and Instincts of Animals (1852), Anecdotes of the Habits and Instincts of Birds, Reptiles and Fishes (1853); Chapter 10: Cautionary Field Science Overseas and at Home: (Mis)Adventure in Playing at Settlers (1855) and Sir Thomas the Cornish Baronet (1856); Conclusions: The Case of Sarah Bowdich (Lee): Pioneering and Mentoring Science from below. Lessons for Women in Stem(M) Today; Appendices (to Chapters 6, 8 and 9), Bibliography of Works Cited; Index.


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