Women in the Laboratory from the early modern times to the 20th century

The laboratory is one of the fundamental spaces for teaching and research in science and technology. Being a space of knowledge transfer and development, it is not only modelled by physical settings, materials and the uses of instruments, but also by disciplinary traditions, social hierarchies and divisions of labour. The exclusive presence of men in laboratories compared to other science spaces like the salon, the field or the home shaped the science practiced in that space as well. What happened when women entered the laboratory space?

Gendered practices in e.g. radioactivity and genetics laboratories have already been subject to in-depth analyses, and more studies from these and especially from other fields and other time periods are needed/encouraged in order to shed light on the many facets of women’s presence in laboratories. Through comparative and contextual approaches we want to explore the laboratory space from a gender perspective, in the timespan that runs from early modern times to the 20th century. How did women conform to local laboratory cultures and how did their presence in turn reshape these cultures?

We are interested in studying laboratories which attracted a large number of female researchers as well as individual women working in laboratory environments dominated by men. Questions we would like to discuss in the session include: What characterized the laboratories which attracted many women? What roles did the women play in the laboratories? How did these roles affect the credibility of women in exchanges and discussions in the scientific community? To which extent and in what ways were these gendered practices disseminated from one place to another? And what did the presence of women in the laboratory add to the practice of science?

To find the symposium on the website of the conference, click here.


Annette Lykknes
Board Member of the Women's Commission of the DHST/IUHPS
Brigitte Van Tiggelen
Board Member of the Commission for the History of Modern Chemistry of the DHST/IUHPS