94351 - History, Science and Society: Women, Gender and Science

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Gender equality Reduced inequalities Responsible consumption and production Life on land

Academic Year 2021/2022

Course contents

Women and men, gender and science: from the present to the Enlightenment and back

This course investigates the controversial relationships between gender and science and between women and men in educational and research institutions in the Western world over the last three centuries. We will employ historiographic, scientific sources and sources from Science, Technology and Society Studies (STS). These sources will be thoroughly introduced in the introductory lectures together with a discussion of the concept of sex/gender.

The course sets off from the present, examining the many successes achieved in the technoscientific and biomedical fields over the last two decades thanks to the dialogue between natural and social sciences mediated by gender studies and feminism. We will verify these results by examining their development in several pioneering laboratories where researchers have been able to innovate laboratory practices, launch new fields of investigation such as medicine and gender genetics, and deconstruct the myth of “female” vs “male” brains. These successes in both laboratory and field settings were achieved thanks to the work of female scientists who, particularly since the 1970s – and in fact as early as the 19th century, as we will see – have brought social sciences and feminism into the laboratory. The course will also show, however, that these important innovations and discoveries adopted by the international scientific community have not yet been matched by full professional recognition of female scientists, a phenomenon which affects women and certain minorities to the detriment of institutions and society.

With regard to the history of women in science over the last three centuries, the course focuses on three cases: the temporary success of women in institutional science in 18th-century Bologna; the later-19th century construction of the belief (temporarily true, as is often the case in science) in “women’s inferiority” in the age of the spread and appropriation of Darwinism; and, finally, the life and work of the geneticist Barbara McClintock (1902-1992), winner of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1983.

Lessons will start on 16 November (room D, via Zamboni, 34 and online):

Tuesday 5:00-7:00 pm

Wednesday 5:00-7:00 pm

Thursday 11:00-1:00 am



The program is the same for attending and non attending students, including students of "Scienze filosofiche"; "Didattica e comunicazione delle scienze naturali "; Erasmus program.

1. Texts and PowerPoints posted (during the course) on the e-learning platform (150/200 pp., c.).

2. Evelyn Fox Keller, A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock. Freeman, 1983.

3. P. Govoni, Che cos’è la storia della scienza, Roma, Carocci, 2019 [new enlarged ed.].

Teaching methods

This course aims to support self-assessment processes and thus avoids as much as possible the traditional three-phase approach of lecturing, autonomous learning, and evaluation. Instead, we will try to adopt different practices (e.g. flipped classroom and cooperative learning approaches) in an attempt to mix these three phases in different ways. The aim is to provide students with greater autonomy in terms of studying, conducting in-depth analysis and communicating what they read, as well as the skills of group work and peer discussion. We will do this together by organizing the group activities and discussions that are a fundamental component of this course. These activities are accessible for both in-person and online students. Those who cannot attend the lectures will study the texts indicated in the course readings list.

Students attending this course (in person or online) will be invited to present – in groups of two/three and preferably combining both Philosophical Sciences and DiCoSN students – on a topic related to the course and previously specified with the teacher. Up to 5 points will be awarded for these activities.

Students attending this course (in person or online) will be able to take a written exam (using the Forms platform) at the end of the lectures: on the basis of an outline, the aim will be to present an argument about the materials discussed in the lectures and presented in the small group presentations in a personal and critical way, including on the basis of students’ own notes and using correctly cited online resources. Up to 5 points will be awarded for this exam.

Assessment methods

Oral exam: this consists of two or three questions, stemming from a freely chosen topic.

Students will be tested on their knowledge of the course’s bibliography, as well as on their ability to reason in a logical, concise and personal way.

The accuracy and precision of the student’s way of expression will also be taken in consideration.

For further information, please consult  the educational guidelines here (Regolamento didattico).

Teaching tools

PowerPoint; e-learning tools; science museums.

Office hours

See the website of Paola Govoni