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Christoffer Basse Eriksen (with Xinyi Wen) receives the Best Article Award from the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women and Gender: “Colouring Flowers: Books, Art, and Experiment in the Household of Margery and Henry Power"

British Journal for the History of Science, vol. 56, iss. 1, 21-43 (2023)

Statement from the prize committee

The prize committee said the following about your article: This important intervention into the study of early modern women and science highlights the key, if unacknowledged, role that Margery Power, who produced detailed botanical illustrations and experimented with pigments to produce a precise “chromatic vocabulary,” played in her husband Henry’s understanding of plants. Situating their research in ongoing studies of the often unacknowledged place of women in early modern science, Eriksen and Wen use a detailed study of historical library catalogues, botanical texts (including ones painted over by Power herself), albums of paintings, and household notebooks to clearly demonstrate the “epistemic importance” of women in scientific households.

Abstract of the article

This article examines the early modern household's importance for producing experimental knowledge through an examination of the Halifax household of Margery and Henry Power. While Henry Power has been studied as a natural philosopher within the male-dominated intellectual circles of Cambridge and London, the epistemic labour of his wife, Margery Power, has hitherto been overlooked. From the 1650s, this couple worked in tandem to enhance their understanding of the vegetable world through various paper technologies, from books, paper slips and recipe notebooks to Margery's drawing album and Henry's published Experimental Philosophy. Focusing on Margery's practice of hand-colouring flower books, her copied and original drawings of flowers and her experimental production of ink, we argue that Margery's sensibility towards colour was crucial to Henry's microscopic observations of plants. Even if Margery's sophisticated knowledge of plants never left the household, we argue that her contribution was nevertheless crucial to the observation and representation of plants within the community of experimental philosophy. In this way, our article highlights the importance of female artists within the history of scientific observation, the use of books and paperwork in the botanical disciplines, and the relationship between household science and experimental philosophy.