Kimberly A. HamlinFrom Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age America

University of Chicago, 2014

by Lilian Calles Barger on February 23, 2015

Kimberly A. Hamlin

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Gender StudiesKimberly A. Hamlin is an associate professor in American Studies and history at Miami University in Oxford Ohio. Her book from Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age in America  (University of Chicago Press, 2014)provides a history of how a group of women’s rights advocates turned to Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory to answer the eternal “woman question.” Hamlin’s fascinating intellectual history uncovers how the new evolutionary science provided multiple arguments by which to advance the cause of women’s rights in the home and society.  Many scholars are familiar with the Enlightenment, religious, and socialist origins of feminist thought. Hamlin suggests another significant strand of thought offered by the science of human origins. She argues that Darwinism, often with unorthodox interpretations, was effective in overturning a central ideological obstacle to women’s equality—the biblical story of Eve. Charles Darwin’s theory, against his own conservative views, turned upside down traditional ideas about women. Freethinkers, socialist, sexologist seized on evolutionary science to build arguments against recalcitrant traditional views. They asserted that their contemporary culture was a construct of erroneous ideas calling for change, in order to live in accordance to the evolutionary laws of nature. As “reform Darwinists,” Hamlin’s subjects stood against social Darwinism, religious teaching, and custom. Yet, evolutionary science under male control was deployed to reassert women’s subordination. Sex difference as interpreted by many male scientists pointed to female intellectual inferiority. Women, mostly outside the science establishment, called on the evidence of “woman’s experience” against claims of scientific men.  Hamlin offers a lucid narrative of how a group of women intervened in a period between the demise of Eve, as the metanarrative for the meaning of womanhood, and the masculinist consolidation of evolutionary science.

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Kristina KleutghenImperial Illusions: Crossing Pictorial Boundaries in the Qing Palaces

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[Cross-posted from New Books in East Asian Studies] Kristina Kleutghen’s beautiful new book offers a fascinating window into the culture of illusion in China in the eighteenth century and beyond. Imperial Illusions: Crossing Pictorial Boundaries in the Qing Palaces (University of Washington Press, 2015) guides readers into the scenic illusions of the Qing dynasty, focusing on pictorial illusions and […]

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S. Lochlann JainMalignant: How Cancer Becomes Us

January 15, 2015

[Cross-posted from New Books in Medicine] Cancer pervades American bodies—and also habits of mind. Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us (University of California Press, 2013) is a sharp, adventurous book by the established legal anthropologist, S. Lochlann Jain. The book simultaneously complicates and clarifies the multiple ways in which cancer and patient-hood gets appropriated, embodied and reproduced through seemingly quotidian activities—from opening […]

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