Vampire Researcher

Due to some behind-the-scenes digital footprint weirdness, I discovered that Google Scholar was reporting one of my papers as being written in 1759. That got me thinking: asides from outing me as a vampire to the world, who is the Sharon from 1759? And before you ask, no, my skin does not sparkle like diamonds in the sun!

scholar_1759 (2)
Screenshot of the Google Scholar auto-entry dated 1759 instead of 2016

 

This process of looking back to 1759 highlighted my bias about women at that time. I expected to hear about difficult lives and fashions. While some of this was true (panniers!), women writers existed, at least those fortunate to be born into privilege and with understanding male family members to support them.

My colleague Jessie and I come from a science background, and even that was not so strange. The first paper by a woman was published in the Royal Philosophical Society’s Transactions; all credit to Anne Whitfeld and her report on the thunderstorm that struck her home in 1759 (Whitfeld & Van Rixtel, 1759). By the 1780s, Caroline Herschel was discovering comets (Herschel, 1787) and working as an astronomer for the King (Hoskin, 2005). She was the first woman to be made a member of the Royal Society, albeit honorary, and managed to do all that while still taking care of her household duties. Chemist Marie-Anne Lavoisier was born in 1758 and feminist philosopher and author Mary Wollstonecraft in 1759.

Had we been born into the right circumstances, perhaps we would have printed our paper; not everything was so straightforward. I was born in Ireland and studied in Trinity College Dublin. In 1759, they were putting the finishing touches on the west front on College Green, but women would not be permitted to study there until 1904.

References

Herschel, C. (1787). An Account of a New Comet. In a Letter from Miss Caroline Herschel to Charles Blagden, MD Sec. RS. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London77, 1-3. Retrieved from http://rstl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/77/1.full.pdf

Hoskin, M. (2005). Caroline Herschel as observer. Journal for the History of Astronomy36(4), 373-406. Retrieved from http://adsbit.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?2005JHA….36..373H&classic=YES

Whitfeld, A., & Van Rixtel, J. (1759). An Account of the Effects of a Storm of Thunder and Lightning at Rickmansworth, in Hertfordshire, on the 16th of July, 1759: In a Letter from Mrs. Anne Whitfeld. Communicated by Mr. John van Rixtel, F. R. S. Philosophical Transactions (1683-1775), 51, 282-286. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/105375

 

Reading inspiration: Apocalypse Bookshelf

Oliver Burkeman’s article on reading ‘smart’ reminded me of my own approach – the Apocalypse Bookshelf. 

I love reading, but there are times I feel I’ve been focussing too much on a certain genre or two. I’m in a reading rut, which might be comfy, but is getting a little ‘samey’.

Inspiration comes from a challenge I set myself when working in libraries (it’s amazing what you think of when shelving books!).

Apocalypse Bookshelf
Pick a book…

The task is this…

Imagine this shelf, this random shelf I’m looking at now, is the last shelf of books on the planet.

(Cue mild bibliophile panic)

Now, pick a book and read it. 

Remember, this is one of the last books on the planet. One of the last chances to open a cover and be transported wheresoever the writer wanted to take their reader.

Sometimes, I’ll follow Lionel Shriver’s advice – the book is not ‘for me’, and reading time is precious, so I’ll take advantage of the fact it isn’t the last book, and move on to something else. 

Sometimes, you’re faced with a shelf of car manuals which, without a car to tinker with to add the practical input, don’t hold my attention for long.

Most of the time, however, I have the joy of learning something new, being inspired to try something myself, or just wallow in someone else’s experience. 

I’ve never made it through all the shelves in any library I’ve been in, as usually I get sucked into a new genre and follow the thread of synchronicity on to new books and new authors. It’s still my fix of choice for those days I have reading space and need new input.

Give it a go and let me know how it works for you 🙂

 

Archive treasures

From NLM Turning the Pages http://www.nlm.nih.gov/news/app_turn_pages.html
From Snape’s Anatomy of the Horse courtesy of the NLM http://www.nlm.nih.gov/news/app_turn_pages.html

 

Two colleagues and I were there to build ideas for our upcoming MOOC – more on that in a later post once all is good to go! We met with one of the archivists – a treasure herself – who had gathered some of the items associated with the vet school which she thought might inspire us.

There was much excitement – such that I couldn’t possibly convey by post. I can still see A standing with an item in their hand saying “that can’t possibly be part of a stethoscope!”, and the general air of unwrapping presents each time the archivist opened another box. 

I had to share the fun, so it’s become my first post to the blog 🙂

For more on the University Special Collections, see: http://edin.ac/1koMra5 or visit the brilliant Collect.ed exhibit currently on in the library (if you’re near Edinburgh!), see: http://edin.ac/1koPwXN for further details.