The NYU Program in the History of Women and Gender is hosting an upcoming seminar with Erika Milam, Historian of Science at Princeton, and author of the forthcoming book Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America, will present Old Woman and the Sea: Evolution and the Feminine Aquatic.
In the late twentieth-century, a curious sympathy between second-wave feminism and evolutionary theory forged a powerful connection between women and the sea. Speculative non-fiction by Elaine Morgan rewrote humanity’s evolutionary past to be both more fluid and more feminist in her Descent of Woman (1972). Later fiction—including Kurt Vonnegut’s Galápagos (1985) and biologist Joan Slonczewski’s Door Into Ocean (1986)—posited alternative futures in which long association with the ocean resulted in the evolution of new forms of biological and social order. The elusive boundary between science and fiction in these narratives highlights both the moral authority of nature and the subversive connotations of the aquatic.
Erika Milam specializes in the history of the modern life sciences, especially the history of evolutionary theory. Her research explores how scientists have used animals as models for understanding human behavior, from sex to aggression. She graduated with a biology major from Carleton College and subsequently earned an M.S. in Biology (Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology) from the University of Michigan, where she developed an interest in the history of science. She then completed her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin in the History of Science. After a postdoctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, in Berlin, Germany, she taught at the University of Maryland for several years before joining the Princeton History Department. She is author of Looking for a Few Good Males: Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010) and co-editor with Robert A. Nye of Scientific Masculinities (Osiris, Vol. 30, 2015).