[SydPhil] HPS Research Seminar Series - Elena Serrano - Max Planck Institute - Monday 15th October

Debbie Castle debbie.castle at sydney.edu.au
Wed Oct 10 11:28:35 AEDT 2018

Making “useful knowledge” in the Spanish Enlightenment: The Committee of Ladies of Honour and Merit (1787-1808)


While the culture of the French salon was on the wane and Rousseauian ideas about women’s natural domesticity were in vogue, enlightened politicians and upper-class women in Spain debated women’s rights to join one of the country’s main scientific institutions, the Madrid Economic Society. After passionate discussions, women were allowed to set up a female branch: the Junta de damas de Honor y Mérito (The Committee of Ladies of Honour and Merit). The Madrid Economic Society was one among the c. 500 patriotic societies aimed to produce and spread useful knowledge that mushroomed in Europe from the 1730 onwards. Yet, what contemporaries meant by useful knowledge and the economic consequences of this knowledge is still controversial (Stapelbroek and Marjanen, 2012; Mokyr, 2016; Roberts, 2017; Stewart & Whitmer, 2018). In fact, useful knowledge included multifarious practices that ranged from experimenting in farming and rural economy, to quantifying industrial productions, to the meticulous observation of nature. However, economic societies admitted women only occasionally. Except in the Spanish case, we do not know of female branches of economic societies. My paper explores how and why in Spain the European improvement movement crystalized in a local female society. I will argue that upper-class women, in spite of all the limitations their gender imposed, were considered by a substantial portion of Spanish reformers to be legitimate actors in producing and circulating useful knowledge. Moreover, women were needed to be co-opted for implementing their reformist agenda. The paper deploys this Spanish outlier to investigate how women negotiated a new civic role through a re-articulation of femininity.

Where and When:

Monday 15th October, 5:30pm, New Law Annexe 446

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