Gelbart Wins Guggenheim Fellowship
Occidental College History Professor Nina Gelbart, Anita Johnson Wand Chair in Women’s Studies, has been awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship to research her latest project, “Frenchwomen of Science in the 18th Century.”
Gelbart, the seventh faculty member in Occidental history to win the honor, is one of 187 Guggenheim fellows selected from a field of nearly 3,000 applicants in the United States and Canada.
The 2006 awards average more than $38,000 and are made to artists, scholars and scientists in recognition of past achievement and promise for future accomplishment. “You don’t apply for this thinking you’re going to get it,” said Gelbart, who has taught at Occidental since 1975. “I’m thrilled. It’s a nice vote of confidence.”
The Los Angeles resident will spend the 2006-07 academic year in France researching a book that will serve as a group biography of five now-obscure women scientists – anatomist Marie Marguerite Biheron, botanist Madeleine Françoise Basseporte, astronomer Nicole-Reine Lepaute, geometrician Elisabeth Ferrand, and field naturalist Jeanne Baret. Each faced obstacles in a patriarchal culture that routinely claimed credit for their work. “They had a passion to do something that was absolutely not sanctioned by their society, yet they were determined to study nature when there was absolutely no institutional path to do it,” Gelbart said. “I like to find these really gutsy women who were players in their day but are pretty much forgotten now.”
Four of the five women lacked any scientific background, yet all had “an extraordinary will to explore the natural world,” Gelbart added. “They devoted their lives to this study and in their day their contemporaries talked about them quite a lot. They’ve fallen into oblivion, and to reverse this erasure is important to me.”
Biography isn’t new terrain for Gelbart. She wrote the acclaimed “The King’s Midwife: A History and Mystery of Madame du Coudray” (1998). An emissary for Kings Louis XV and XVI, du Coudray traveled provincial France for 30 years in an effort to temper infant mortality. The book drew kudos from the New York Times and won the biography prize from the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
Gelbart’s past research has been supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Institutes of Health, and the American Council of Learned Societies. She earned her master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago, after graduating from Harvard. At Occidental, Gelbart teaches European social and cultural history, western civilization, history of women and history of medicine. Her research interests are Enlightenment and revolutionary France, especially journalism, midwifery and the art and politics of those periods. Gelbart also wrote “Feminine and Opposition Journalism in Old Regime France” (1987).
Since 1925, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has granted more than $247 million in fellowships to 16,000 individuals. Scores of Nobel, Pulitzer, and other prize winners appear on the roll of fellows, which includes Ansel Adams, Aaron Copland, Martha Graham, Langston Hughes, Philip Roth, James Watson and Eudora Welty.