The Electrifying Women project is reaching out to colleagues who can help to collectively develop a more inclusive version of its international history of women in twentieth-century engineering and science. Already signed up to the network are the International Network of Women in Engineering and Sciences (INWES), the Canadian Institute for Women in Engineering and Sciences (CIWES), the Archives of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE); the Institution of Engineering & Technology (hosting the archives of the Women’s Engineering Society, WES), the Science Museum in London, the Institute of History & Philosophy of Science & Technology at the University of Toronto, as well as eminent historians of women in science and engineering including Professor Ruth Sandwell, Dr Nina Baker and Dr Patricia Fara.
Much published history of women in STEM focuses either on individual female practitioners, or on case studies of national communities (e.g., Oldenziel et al. Crossing Boundaries. Building Bridges 2000). This project will explore for the first time the transnational networks of women in science and engineering, using as the starting point the International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists started in 1964, and managed by INWES since 2001.
In the midst of a pandemic and the rise of anti-science movements, it is vital to have a more inclusive science and engineering constituency to bring all of the best talents globally to bear on solving global problems. Finding fresh and inclusive ways to map how women across the world have already come together to try to solve these problems, especially since the post-World War 2 period of decolonization and the Cold War, is a vital historical contribution to this crisis.
Why is a network needed? Assembling a fully inclusive global story of women in science and engineering poses huge challenges. Much careful discussion is needed to develop the interdisciplinary methodology and transnational division of labour that can deliver a globally inclusive history from what are currently very disparate, diverse and dispersed resources with many gaps and silences, with much need for untold stories to be documented.
The short-term aim is to secure network funding from the UK’s Arts & Humanities Research Council for a series of workshops (three virtual, one final event actual) on these provisional topics:
i) Mapping: discussion of how to map globally & systematically the location and activities of women in 20th century science and engineering, what the gaps are (e.g. women outside INWES) and thresholds of inclusion.
ii) Methodology: discussion of how to fill the gaps in our knowledge and resolve the methodological challenges in completing them e.g. oral history, linguistic diversity, focus on groups vs individuals, creating global and decolonized historical accounts.
iii) Moving Forward: discussion of the division of labour, resources and timeline for delivering a global inclusive publication on women in science and engineering, and dissemination of plans to relevant global partners for future expansion.
iv) Publishing: discussion of publications of contributions from the workshops, both substantive and methodological, with a view to supporting a further large grant application.
We aim for this network to run from late 2021 to 2022, with a subsequent application to get larger scale funding e.g. from the Canadian SSHRC for a bigger project that will hire researchers to build up a fully inclusive history over the coming decade.