L’Alguier d’Agathe de Gourcuff, a singular herball

L’Alguier d’Agathe de Gourcuff is an herball of seaweeds, conserved in the Bibliothèque d’Etude of Brest. Realized in 1838, this object is presented as a book containing 60 species of seaweeds collected at Le Pérennou, on the banks of the Odet river, in the country of Quimper. Each species is presented by an etiquette with the seaweed name in French and not in Latin, which is unusual for a scientific work-like. However, the author, a women, Mademoiselle Agathe de Gourcuff, mentions its main source, the Botanicum Gallicum, which is a book in Latin version, that means she was able to read that language. Moreover, she communicates names of former and contemporary authors that she read in order to make her herbarium.

This object is interesting because it looks like an other one, also realized in Brittany in the same period of history. This is the one of Colonel du Dresnay, achieved in 1827. It contains more than 100 species identified in Latin. Both of the herbals have the same layout and presentation, which is an interesting fact. Moreover, Du Dresnay could have met the Mach’allac’h family, which had connection with the de Gourcuff.

Agathe de Gourcuff was born in 1818 in Paris, in the noble family of Counts de Gourcuff. She lived in a big family of 4 brothers and sisters. Her father, Casimir de Gourcuff, was a marine insurer and her mother came from the family of the Counts de Coëtnempren de Kersaint. Agathe de Gourcuff grew up in an intellectual environment which maybe allowed her to have a scientific education. When she realized her herbal, she signed as « Mademoiselle », wich means she wasn’t married yet. She married Alfred Potier de Courcy, son of Barons of Normandy, in 1845, in Paris. She died young, in 1857, also in Paris.

This herbal illustrates the women’s work, in the scientific field, in the middle of the 19th century. Indeed, at that time, few women only had access to Scientific education. Moreover, Agathe de Gourcuff lived during the July Monarchy, when the feminine contestation regarding the existing inequality in education, rights and freedom was very strong. Hence, the work of Agathe de Gourcuff invites us to reflect on the value and the recognition of the scientific ideas and productions of the women.

Thus, this subject permits to ask the problematics of a new point of view in history of sciences, a bigger vision of the building of sciences. Indeed, social context can not be separated from the making of sciences, and scientists do not work alone. They are inspired by others works, they choose or they refuse theories according to different factors. Throughout History, being a women was a challenge because they were not supposed to be « made » to practice sciences, and those theories were built by men, for men.


Une réflexion au sujet de « L’Alguier d’Agathe de Gourcuff, a singular herball »

  1. Très beau sujet et quel bel hommage pour toutes les femmes qui ont fait la science d’hier et continuent à faire celle d’aujourd’hui! J’ai appris beaucoup de choses!
    Bon courage pour la suite

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