Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) was one of the most remarkable women of letters – perhaps ever. Her body of work ranged across the social and biological sciences and even theology. Wikipedia gives a good introduction to the breadth of her writing. However, if Martineau is remembered at all today, it is as the English translator of Auguste Comte’s work. But Martineau was a sociological pioneer in her own right, a friend of John Stuart Mill and the Utilitarians, as well as a correspondent with all the major the intellectuals of the mid-19th century, on both sides of the Atlantic, and including Charles Darwin. By all accounts she was a formidable personality (a Germaine Greer-like figure perhaps) who stood out in her day for being able to earn a living from her writing without ever having to get married.
The person who appears to be the leading living scholar of her work is Deborah Logan, an American specialist in Victorian literature. This leaves plenty of scope for a sociological interpretation of Martineau’s oeuvre. As it happens, many of Martineau’s papers are housed at the University of Birmingham. Based on a twitter exchange between Jo VanEvery (@JoVanEvery), Mark Carrigan (@mark_carrigan), and myself, it dawned on me that Warwick (only 20 miles from Birmingham) would be a great place for someone to do a Ph.D. on Martineau’s significance in her own time and her continuing legacy, both in sociology and for feminism more generally.
I would welcome a student interested in undertaking this project. I think such a Ph.D. could be easily turned into a timely book. But keep in mind that you will need funding! I am happy to work with students interested in applying for funds but I have none at my disposal. (When approaching me (firstname.lastname@example.org), please already have a funding source in mind that you have good reason to believe would support this project. This means doing some homework about funders!)
Finally, a few years ago, I staged a play in which the main female role was that of Harriet Martineau. You can have look here.
Professor Steve Fuller, University of Warwick
Categories: Rethinking The World