Reviving the Female Canon

In “Reviving the Female Canon” at The Atlantic Susan Price looks at efforts being made to increase the exposure of worthy female authors in philosophy and history.

Despite the spread of feminism and multiculturalism, and their impact on fields from literature to anthropology, it is possible to major in philosophy without hearing anything about the historical contributions of women philosophers. The canon remains dominated by white males—the discipline that some say still hews to the myth that genius is tied to gender.

Andrew Janiak, an associate professor of philosophy at Duke University, was a graduate student in the 1990s when he came across Kant’s startling reference to Madame Du Châtelet. “I remember thinking: Did he really mean Madame?” Janiak said. “It was the only time I’d seen a philosopher refer to the ideas of a woman.”

Now, Janiak and a team of Duke students and researchers, along with colleagues at Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania, have launched a site that features the forgotten voices of women philosophers, giving academics and students a rare opportunity to study and promote their work. Project Vox, as the site is called, posts texts and translations of 17th-century women philosophers’ work, as well as suggested syllabi for college courses featuring that work. The site is open-source, meaning that faculty and students from around the world can contribute and use materials, and has a 10-member international advisory board. According to Janiak, “a long list of folks” has already contributed or requested syllabi from the project, which went live in March.

Project Vox currently features information about Margaret Cavendish, Anne Conway, Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, the Marquise Du Châtelet, and Lady Masham. Articles such as this one point out the ongoing need to reassess the canon and correct for historical biases and blindness.

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