Wednesday, 24 March 2010

women of mind

As today is Ada Lovelace Day,  introducing female scientists and scholars into your game may draw no particular response or a few looks depending on your setting.  Here are two historical figures you might want to draw some inspiration from if you want to portray women a little differently from the usual goddess of the arm fare you find in classical fantasy works.

Anna Comnena - The first woman to write a history was a Byzantine princess, the first and favoured child of King Alexius Comnenus who ruled during in the early 12th century.  A well-educated woman, versed in medicine, the classics, science and music she married Nicophoreus Bryennius, a historian with a claim to the throne.  She became her father's physician yet despite her efforts to save him, her younger brother ascended to the throne.  Byzantine politics being what they were, Anna plotted with her mother to overthrow her brother and put Nicophoreus on the throne.  Yet Nicophoreus refused and the plot was uncovered.

Anna, her husband and those involved with the plot left court and during this time Nicophoreus began writing a history of the former king Alexius but died before he could finish it.  Anna and her mother moved into a convent and Anna completed the history, adding in levels of detail and accuracy due to her experiences in court rarely seen in similar works of the time.  The Alexiad was a fifteen volume history in Greek and demonstrates Anna's extensive knowledge of politics, military tactics, astronomy, medicine and science as well as acknowledging the good works of her antecedents.  It also paints a picture of her isolation and disgust at her husband's unwillingness to seize power, noting perhaps their genders should have been reversed...

Sophie Germain - The first woman to be accepted in Parisian university and the Institut de France was the daughter of a wealthy silk merchant and banker.  She studied in her father's library as the French Revolution raged and devoted herself to mathematics on reading of Archimedes of Syracuse.  Self-taught in Greek, Latin and mathematics, she studied against her family's wishes. This defiance of social mores would continue as she adopted the pseudonym M. le Blanc, borrowing the notes of university professors and studied number theory as women were not allowed to study in Parisian universities in the early 1800s.

During this time she entered correspondence with Joseph-Louis Lagrange and Carl Friedrich Gauss both of whom eventually discovered her gender and maintained contact anyway.  She anonymously submitted a paper to the French Academy of Sciences and won a prize she could not collect for fear of scandal.  Yet her work on Chladni figures (modelling vibration patterns) and Fermat's Last Theorem finally gave her acceptance within the scientific community.  She tragically died of breast cancer before she could be awarded an honourary doctorate at Göttingen University.  Her work laid foundations for applied mathematics and mathematical physics used in skyscraper construction, acoustics and elasticity.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry for the late comment, but nice post. I'll see your list and raise you Hypatia of Alexandria.


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