Vestiges from a time long past: Lyme Regis and three female paleontologists

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My article on Mary Anning, Mary Buckland and Charlotte Murchison who lived exciting times in Paleontology in the 19th century got recently published on the Biologos website.

This was a great opportunity to deeply delve into their lives, their views, and discoveries, but also into the “Jurassic Coast”, the coastline from East Devon to Dorset, with rocks recording 185 million years of the Earth’s history. And in Dorset is Lyme Regis, the home town of Mary Anning.  In the early 19th century, Lyme Regis in Dorset was a very frequented seaside resort famous for its beauty where many of the upper classes spent their time during summer. The town had well-built houses which, though numerous, are still often incapable of containing all the people that visited it during the season. Lyme offered its visitors walks and drives, shops, assembly rooms, baths and cures for invalids. One of Lyme’s main attractions was the Cobb, a long harbor wall that stretches into the sea. The harbor, at times more important than the port of Liverpool, dates back to the 13th century.

Jane Austen visited the place in 1804, and in her last novel ‘Persuasion’, she describes the place as follows:

[A]s there is nothing to admire in the buildings themselves, the remarkable situation of the town, the principal street almost hurrying into the water, the walk to the Cobb, skirting round the pleasant little bay, which, in the season, is animated with bathing machines and company; the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better. The scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more, its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands, make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation; the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme; and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest trees and orchards of luxuriant growth, declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again, to make the worth of Lyme understood.

If you haven’t read the book, you should put in your reading list!

Another recommendation is this wonderful documentary “Walking through time – Britains Jurassic Coast” with Dr. Tori Herridge, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in London:

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Sophie Scholl

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“Man muss einen harten Geist und ein weiches Herz haben.“
“Il faut avoir l’esprit dur et le coeur doux.“
“You need to have a strong spirit and a compassionate heart”.
– Jacques Maritain

Sophie Scholl

This was the preferred quote of Sophie Scholl. She and her brother Hans together with Christoph Probst were murdered on 22 February 1943 – today 75 years ago – by the Nazi regime. The “White Rose” – the resistance group that her brother  and she founded with some friends – represents one of the young faces that did not bend in the moment of atrocity. She was 21 years old when she died. When she saw her mother a few hours prior to her death, she said: “You know – Jesus.”

Maria Kirch

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On 29 December 1720, the German astronomer Maria Kirch died in Berlin. Her father, a Lutheran pastor, believed that she deserved an education equivalent to that given to young boys of the time. From by her father and her uncle, she learnt mathematics and astronomy going on to study with and work together with the amateur astronomer Christoph Arnold. Through Arnold she got to know the astronomer Gottfried Kirch and despite the fact that he was 30 years older than her they married. Kirch was official astronomer of the Berlin Royal Academy of Science and her and Maria ran the Academy’s observatory together for many years. In 1702 she became the first woman to discover a comet but the credit for the discovery was given to her husband. When Gottfried died in 1710, Maria applied for his position arguing correctly that she had done half of the work in the past. Despite her having published independently and having an excellent reputation as well as the active support of Leibniz the Academy refused to award her the post. She worked in various other observatories until 1717 when her son was appointed to his father’s position, Maria once again becoming the assistant. Despite having more than proved her equality to any male astronomer Maria never really received the recognition she deserved. However, she was admitted by the Berlin Academy of Sciences.

Idea for this post: The Renaissance Mathematicus, Sorry Caroline but you were not the first, Maria was.

Antoinette Brown Blackwell

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[im Juni 2014 geschrieben]

ABBAntoinette Brown Blackwell (1825-1921): sie war die erste amerikanische Pastorin, eine Frauenrechtskämpferin, Naturphilosophin und Evolutionsforscherin, Zeitgenossin von Charles Darwin. Ihr mutiges, aufrechtes Leben, in dem sie überholte Strukturen ihrer Zeit aufbrach und doch zugleich altbewährten Werten treu blieb, ist im besten Sinne des Wortes innovativ. Zeit Ihres Lebens war sie beruflich aktiv, Ehe und Familie – sie hatte 5 Töchter – waren eine partnerschaftliches Unternehmen. Ihr Leben war bewegt und spannend, und so ist das Buch auch geschrieben. Continue reading