Thursday, October 19, 2017

Women who changed the world: Lauren Gunderson

"On a six-hour drive from San Francisco to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival a few years ago, the playwright Lauren Gunderson raised a question: What does American theatre need? “It was ridiculously presumptuous,” Gunderson told me recently, over the phone, “but it’s the conversation everyone is having.” Gunderson was travelling with her friend Margot Melcon, a former literary manager, who reminded her that every theatre needs a holiday show: something clever, heartwarming, and family-friendly enough to entice an audience inured to “A Christmas Carol.” Gunderson recalled their idea: “You know what people love? Jane Austen. You know what people really love? Christmas and Jane Austen.” By the time they finished the drive, they had outlined a script on Starbucks napkins: a holiday reunion for the Bennet sisters, from “Pride and Prejudice,” with a courtship plot for Mary, the pedantic middle sister, who emerges as a surprising feminist heroine. (Mary and her beau spark over a copy of Lamarck’s “Zoological Philosophy”; Gunderson calls Mary an emblem of “geek chic.”) “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” is now a regional-theatre hit.

Increasingly, theatres are banking on Gunderson, who, at thirty-five, has already had more than twenty of her works produced: among them witty historical dramas about women in science (“Emilie,” “Silent Sky,” “Ada and the Engine”), giddy political comedies (“Exit, Pursued by a Bear,” “The Taming,” “The Revolutionists”), and wildly theatrical explorations of death and legacy (“I and You,” “The Book of Will”). According to American Theatre magazine’s annual survey, released last month, Gunderson will be the most produced playwright in the country for the 2017–18 season. Her plays are staged almost twice as often as anyone else’s on the list, far ahead of venerated figures like Eugene O’Neill and August Wilson, who edged her for the top spot last year. (The survey excludes Shakespeare, America’s perennial favorite.) Although men still write three-quarters of the plays that get produced, Gunderson has built a national reputation with works that center on women’s stories. And, though most playwrights also teach or work in television, she has managed to make a living, in San Francisco, by writing for the stage."

Saturday, April 22, 2017


"Gertrude Bell  was born in County Durham, England, in 1868, to an enormously wealthy industrialist family, but instead of being a society girl, she went on to study history at Oxford, before developing a fascination with Arabia and archaeology, visiting the area several times and frequently embarking on digs, such as one in 1909 at Carchemish, ruins found on the Syrian-Turkish border, where she first met Lawrence of Arabia and 'intimidated' him with her intelligence and ability to speak Arabic 'better than him'."

Letters from Baghdad is a documentary where actor Tilda Swinton reads letters written by the diplomat, explorer, archeologist, and even spy during WWI, who, along with T.E. Lawrence, helped to shape modern Middle East.

Queen of the Desert film (2015) is "a chronicle of Gertrude Bell's life, a traveler, writer, archaeologist, explorer, cartographer, and political attaché for the British Empire at the dawn of the twentieth century.  Directed by Werner Herzog

Her biographer Georgina Howell deemed that " the heart of Bell's life: her frustrated love affair with married soldier and administrator Dick Doughty-Wylie, killed in the Dardanelles in 1915."

But, says journalist Rachel Aspden, "modern readers are more likely to be puzzled by her lack of interest in Bell's fraught, and fascinating, political legacy."

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Heddy Lamarr was a very beautiful woman.  She was born in Vienna, Europe, but after she succeeded in cinema, used to live in Los Angeles, where she stayed far from Hollywood parties and scandals.

Friday, April 7, 2017


"Hypatia(born c. 355 ce—died March 415, Alexandria)

mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who lived in a very turbulent era in Alexandria’s history. She is the earliest female mathematician of whose life and work reasonably detailed knowledge exists.

Hypatia was the daughter of Theon of Alexandria, himself a mathematician and astronomer and the last attested member of the Alexandrian Museum. Theon is best remembered for the part he played in the preservation of Euclid’s Elements, but he also wrote extensively, commenting on Ptolemy’s Almagest and Handy Tables. Hypatia continued his program, which was essentially a determined effort to preserve the Greek mathematical and astronomical heritage in extremely difficult times. She is credited with commentaries on Apollonius of Perga’s Conics (geometry) and Diophantus of Alexandria’s Arithmetic (number theory), as well as an astronomical table (possibly a revised version of Book III of her father’s commentary on the Almagest). These works, the only ones she is listed as having written, have been lost, although there have been attempts to reconstruct aspects of them. In producing her commentaries on Apollonius and Diophantus, she was pushing the program initiated by her father into more recent and more difficult areas.
She was, in her time, the world’s leading mathematician and astronomer, the only woman for whom such claim can be made. She was also a popular teacher and lecturer on philosophical topics of a less-specialist nature, attracting many loyal students and large audiences. Her philosophy was Neoplatonist and was thus seen as “pagan” at a time of bitter religious conflict between Christians (both orthodox and “heretical”), Jews, and pagans. Her Neoplatonism was concerned with the approach to the One, an underlying reality partially accessible via the human power of abstraction from the Platonic forms, themselves abstractions from the world of everyday reality. Her philosophy also led her to embrace a life of dedicated virginity.
An early manifestation of the religious divide of the time was the razing of the Serapeum, the temple of the Greco-Egyptian god Serapis, by Theophilus, Alexandria’s bishop until his death in 412 ce. This event was perhaps the final end of the great Library of Alexandria, since the Serapeum may have contained some of the Library’s books. Theophilus, however, was friendly with Synesius, an ardent admirer and pupil of Hypatia, so she was not herself affected by this development but was permitted to pursue her intellectual endeavours unimpeded. With the deaths of Synesius and Theophilus and the accession of Cyril to the bishopric of Alexandria, however, this climate of tolerance lapsed, and shortly afterward Hypatia became the victim of a particularly brutal murder at the hands of a gang of Christian zealots. It remains a matter of vigorous debate how much the guilt of this atrocity is Cyril’s, but the affair made Hypatia a powerful feminist symbol and a figure of affirmation for intellectual endeavour in the face of ignorant prejudice. Her intellectual accomplishments alone were quite sufficient to merit the preservation and respect of her name, but sadly, the manner of her death added to it an even greater emphasis."

Thursday, April 6, 2017


Pioneer: Viscountess Astor the first woman to sit in Parliament as an MP, photographed in 1919. At the height of their influence, the Astors were one of the five great American dynasties with the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Carnegies and Mellons

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Spanish women in science.

"There were women among the beneficiaries of the Board's programs. Thus, in the most important research center of Spain at that time, "Rockefeller", which took the name of the Foundation that had financed its construction, there were 36 women out of a total of 158 researchers, who constituted a brilliant germ of the feminine presence in Spanish science. Unfortunately their careers were truncated with the Spanish civil war (1936-1939). Their stories will begin to be known thanks to the work that Carmen Magallón Portolés initiated with her work Spanish Women Pioneers of the sciences, published in 1999."   (Free translation from article)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Uta Frith discoveries on autism and dyslexia

"No matter what the IQ of a person with autism – and the spectrum is huge – some degree of social impairment is universal. "The brain is not like a pudding; it is more like an exquisite, traditional engine." People with autism who lack theory of mind are missing the "tiny gadget in the big engine that allows us effortlessly to take into account what another person wishes, believes and thinks".

Theory of mind:  the intuition about what is going on in another person's head.

But she had never been happy with the lack-of-bonding thesis. The counter-proposal, that autism was organic – nature, not nurture – was a dramatic reversal. (Comparably, she would later destigmatise dyslexia, showing it to be separate from environment and intelligence; her work on reading development and spelling has been highly influential.)

Frith talks enthusiastically about advances in neuroscience and what technology has made possible. "We can make things visible with unbelievable precision and look inside neurons to see how information travels. But what I am looking for is macroscopic – the mind." About the autistic mind, she remains "intrigued and mystified as ever I was". But she is nothing if not optimistic. Will we ever understand how the brain works? "Yes," she answers decisively, "by the end of this century."

Extracted from:

Maryam Mirzakhani, professor of mathematics at Stanford University. She was the first woman to win the Fields Medal, most prestigious prize in Math.