My Last Founding Five Post
When I started this blog back in January, I wanted to write about the women and minority geoscientists who I found interesting. To get some ideas, I read a few papers and Wikipedia articles which made reference to a whole community of geoscientists who have made significant impacts that I had never heard of before.
At the beginning, I was a little overwhelmed. How could I write about all of these different people?
That is where my idea of the “Founding Five” came from. They are the five people who represent diverse history of geoscience.
I learned so much reading about Mary Anning, Shen Kuo, Florence Bascom, Annie Alexander, and Ibn Sina. Each one had their own interesting stories (who knew Shen Kuo made the oldest known written account of an UFO?). I am especially fascinated by the story of Florence Bascom. She led such an interesting life full of triumph and tragedy.
Three things I learned while writing the Founding Five posts have really stood out to me:
- The renewed public interest in Mary Anning is still mired in bias. Although we celebrate Anning as a representative of women in paleontology, we focus on sexist and classist myths created to lessen her paleontological contributions.
- The history of geology is much more complex than what I thought with contributions from several intelligent people in Asia and the Middle East.
- Two American women, Florence Bascom and Annie Alexander, broke new ground in geology and paleontology through their tenacity and the help of a strong network of allies.
After seven months of my traipse through the history of geoscience, what can we learn?
To me it is obvious that we need to do a better job teaching about the contributions of these lesser-known scientists. I’ve said in almost every post: geology and paleontology are not a European/North American white man’s pursuit.
A counter argument against this idea is that the European men who first published the principles of geology deserve more credit because they published first. Sure, there were others who did similar work and came to the same conclusions earlier, but they never published.
However, Shen Kuo and Ibn Sina both wrote extensively about geology in languages that we can understand today. Florence Bascom published many papers in scientific journals. Mary Anning tried to publish, but was not allowed to by the male-dominated science community.
Instead, the common theme from all of the Founding Five isn’t that they never published their ideas. These men ans women were actively, and maybe purposefully, hidden from us.
Our scientific culture was built to emphasize the important contribution of white men in order to maintain the status quo.
I am not suggesting that men like Charles Lyell or James Hutton personally burned Ibn Sina’s notes (although Lyell published his wife’s work without credit). Instead, our cultural bias hides the lesser known geoscientists through direct action and indirect biases.
We, as in the entire scientific community, assume women and people outside of “the West” cannot make significant contributions to science. In a sense, they do not exist.
However, the history of science is in many ways like the fossil record. Even though we all stare in awe at the ancient behemoths propped up in dinosaur museum displays, there are multitudinous smaller fossils that better inform us of the past.
It is important that we spend time studying these lesser known historical figures because they paint a more complete picture of what geology and paleontology are.
Anyone can be a geoscientist, and history proves it.
I’m not done, far from it. There are so many good stories out there, and so many people (and topics) I want to cover.
I will be starting a new series soon. The new series will take me back to my roots so to speak, but I’ll keep you waiting (and guessing) to see what the topic is. It will still focus on the stories of lesser known geoscientists, but will be slightly different than what I’ve done so far.
That said, I am also moving across the country in a few weeks and starting a new job as an Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha. I don’t think I will have the time to put the necessary research into a set of new posts until I get settled.
This blog takes a lot of my time for research. I want to make sure I tell stories accurately and that all sources are well cited. Because I don’t want to skimp on this quality, I have to step away for a bit.
I may still write short posts once in a while on my “Micro Musings” series, but there won’t be a main post for probably a month or more. I just wanted to make sure you know that I will write again, but it’s kind of hectic right now.
Thanks for reading (all five of you)! Keep posted to my various social media profiles for any updates.