Women Behaving Badly (in Science)

Joanna Harlacher and Dr. Chase Mendenhall, Assistant Curator, Birds with the Guerilla Girl’s Posters Featured in the Carnegie Museum of Art


Women Behaving Badly (in Science)

Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Fall 2019

This semester, I had the opportunity to intern as the Carnegie Museum of Natural History as a research assistant for an upcoming exhibition on gender in the natural world. I was charged with the task of finding novel objects that could be featured in the exhibition. Working with my mentor, Chase Mendenhall, I was able to identify several pieces that I deemed related to the exhibition theme. This opportunity was beneficial as I was able to witness the process of exhibition development. I also gained knowledge about the cultural sector and positions in the museum field. Because of this invaluable experience, In the future, I would like to pursue a career in curation.

Many parts of the exhibit will include feminist critiques of the ways science ignored and excluded many people and ideas on the basis of their gender. When researching, I was inspired by the artist collective the Guerrilla Girl’s revolutionary approach to revealing inequalities, specifically inside the museum, including the posters on view in the Carnegie Museum of Art. Dr. Mendenhall and I wondered what might happen if the Guerilla Girls moved into natural history spaces to highlight gender biases. It occurred to me that we could highlight female scientists in this same style. Specifically, I want to highlight women who are “behaving badly” in scientific fields. Through this internship, I proposed to dedicate space in the exhibit to feature women how had faced forms of gendered backlash in the sciences which could include important scientists such as Joan Roughgarden, Lynn Margulis, and Jane Goodall. Joan Roughgarden is an American ecologist and evolutionary biologist who has critiqued Charles Darwin’s theory of sexual selection. Lynn Margulis was a biologist whose serial endosymbiotic theory (SET) of eukaryotic cell development revolutionized modern understandings of the origin of life. Jane Goodall is a primatologist and anthropologist who has made great strides towards understanding the social relationships of chimpanzees and discovered that chimpanzees can make and use tools. Naming these women and showcasing their important contributions would help correct the common histories which leave them out. 

Aside from this initiative, I developed several other exhibition concepts and objects related to the overarching theme. This internship has helped me to grow not only academically, but personally as I gained new insight on relevant issues. I am enthusiastic about the future development of this project and I am grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Mendenhall.

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  • Undergraduate Work
  • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh