What sorts of contributions did men and women make to Darwin’s work? How was the value of their work measured, and were their contributions referenced equally and consistently in published works?
Focussing on Darwin’s 1881 publication Vegetable Mould and Earthworms, this exercise raises questions about the relationship between gender ideology and the public recognition of scientific work. More broadly, it encourages us to think about how the value, meaning and ownership of scientific work was shaped by gendered ideas and expectations.
For more on this topic see the associated exercise, Referencing Women’s Work.
Associated selected readings.
1. What sorts of content did i) men and ii) women contribute to Vegetable Mould?
2. Are men and women’s efforts consistently referenced in the published text?
3. Do contributions appear to be referenced i) by type of work or ii) by the sex of the contributor in question?
4. What repercussions might referencing patterns have for the acknowledgement and ownership of knowledge and expertise?
Letter 7428 – Wedgwood, F. to Darwin, [4 January 1871]
In this letter Darwin’s brother-in-law, Francis Wedgwood, sends the results of his fieldwork on the depth of furrows in an old field near his house.
Letter 8168 – Ruck, A. R. to Darwin, H., [20 January 1872]
In this letter, Amy Ruck reports the results of her fieldwork on furrows and earthworm activity undertaken around Machynlleth in Wales. She has dug a number of trenches, measured soil depths and tried, but failed, to find worm castings on the family’s croquet lawn. Ruck is not referenced by name in Darwin’s discussion of earthworm activity in the fields of North Wales.
Letter 8193 – Ruck, A. R. to Darwin, H., [1 February 1872]
In this letter, Amy Ruck sends a second report of her work on furrows and earthworm activity undertaken around Machynlleth in Wales. It is likely that the 15 degree slope that she has measured and recorded is the same one referred to in Darwin’s published discussion of earthworm activity.
Letter 8224 – Darwin to Ruck, A. R., [24 February 1872]
In this letter Darwin asks his “geologist in chief for N. Wales”, Amy Ruck, to provide observations and take measurements of hillside worm casting ridges. Ruck’s work on turf-covered slopes was possibly referenced, albeit anonymously, in Darwin’s discussion of turf-based worm castings.
Letter 7345 – Wedgwood, L. C. to Darwin, [15 June 1872]
In this letter Darwin’s niece, Lucy, reports back on her worm casting fieldwork. Her work is referenced in Vegetable Mould but she was identified only as “a lady, on whose accuracy I can implicitly rely”.
Letter 11221 – Darwin to Darwin, H., [1 November 1877]
In this letter Darwin asks his sons, Horace and Francis, to observe earthworm activity at the Roman antiquities of Chedworth and Cirencester. Horace and Francis’ fieldwork and observations are referenced in Vegetable Mould.
Letter 12742 – Darwin, H. to Darwin, [7 October 1880]
In this letter, Horace writes to his father with information on worm-castings and worm activities at a house in St Tibbs Row. Darwin proudly referenced the work of “My son Horace” in Vegetable Mould.
Letter 12745– Darwin to Wedgwood, K. E. S., [8 October 1880]
In this letter Darwin asks his niece, Sophy, to keep an eye out for worm castings during her walks on the Heath. He fears the conditions may be “unfavourable” and suggests Lucy might join her. Sophy may be the “lady…interested in the habits of worms” referenced anonymously in Vegetable Mould.
Letter 12760 – Wedgwood, K. E. S. to Darwin, [15 October 1880]
In this letter Darwin’s niece, Sophy, reports that she has “been up on the common after the worms”. She reports her findings and passes on the results of Lucy’s worm casting work. Darwin refers to work conducted on a heath in Surrey but does not identify the workers in question.
Letter 13037 – Darwin to Darwin, W. E., [5 February 1881]
In this letter Darwin discusses William’s findings relating to the action of worms drawing in leaves to their burrows. William’s work is proudly referenced in Vegetable Mould.