pISSN 0705-3797 eISSN 2586-1298
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Episodes 2001; 24(3): 182-193

Published online September 1, 2001


Copyright © International Union of Geological Sciences.

On the origin of women geologists by means of social selection: German and British comparison

M. Kölbl-Ebert

Bayerische Staatssammlung für Paläontologie und Geologie, Funktionseinheit Geologie, Luisenstr. 37, 80333 München (Munich), Germany, martina.koelbl@iaag.geo.uni-muenchen.de

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The history of geosciences has largely been interpreted as a history of male scientists; but the inclusion of their social frame into historical research makes clear how women in various roles have participated in and shaped the history of geology.
 The paper illustrates this social history of women geologists with familiar graphical methods of geoscientists. It touches briefly on a long and little known prehistory, when geological knowledge was mingled with mythical and religious ideas or with craft-traditions of mining and alchemy. During the 18th century, women appeared as owners of natural history collections, some of which have become the nuclei of today's museum collections.
 The beginning of geological research in a modern sense and thus the beginning of geological history occurred around 1800. In Germany, the early professionalisation of geology effectively precluded the collaboration of women, whereas a non-professional culture of natural sciences in Britain stimulated a local "Cambrian Explosion": Women appeared in great numbers as assistants to male relatives, as field geologists, collectors, taxonomists, and draughtswomen. The professionalisation in Britain during the second half of the 19th century led to the "extinction" of these early female scholars. With the opening of universities for female students the population of women geologists slowly increased again. The number of these professional female geoscientists was, and is, strongly modulated by local cultures of science and the socio-political environment.