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Book release: “Women in European Academies - From Patronae Scientiarum to Path-Breakers”

08 December 2020

This new ALLEA book examines the lives and achievements of women who played determining roles in the history of European academies and in the development of modern science in Europe, including in Ireland

ALLEA released the book “Women in European Academies — From Patronae Scientiarum to Path-Breakers” on 7 December 2020. Published by De Gruyter, the volume examines the lives and achievements of women who played determining roles in the history of European academies and in the development of modern science in Europe. 

These persevering personalities either had a key influence in the establishment of academies ("Patronae Scientiarum") or were pioneering scientists who made major contributions to the progress of science ("path-breakers"). In both cases, their stories provide unique testimonies on the scientific institutions of their time and the systemic barriers female scientists were facing.

“While many of our academies were founded by women in position of political power such as Prussia’s Sophie Charlotte, Austria’s Maria Theresa, Russia’s Catherine the Great or Sweden’s Lovisa Ulrika, women’s role in professional science has suffered from a long discrimination which in the academic world was not less virulent than in other societal domains”, says ALLEA President and series editor Antonio Loprieno in the preface.

Conceptualized as a transversal series of thirteen biographical portraits, the contributions focus particularly on each personalities’ role in (or relation to) European academies, ensuring both a geographical and disciplinary balance. 

The co-editors of the volume are Professor Ute Frevert (Co-Director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development), Professor Ernst Osterkamp (President of the Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung) and Professor Günter Stock (former ALLEA President). In the foreword, they underline the myths that this book challenges:

“One might easily get the impression (…) that behind the scientific and scholarly achievements of the exclusively male members of these academies – membership was the sole preserve of men for several centuries – there was in all these cases a patrona scientiarum: the hand of a woman, conceptually guiding the membership and their research programmes from on high. Yet are these not, in reality, mere founding myths formulated on the basis of the interests and wishes of our own time, and assigning to these queens and empresses a substantially greater interest in the academies and a higher share in their scientific programme than they ever in fact delivered?”.
The contributions are written in the native language of the authors and translated to English where necessary. Ireland’s contribution was authored by Dr Eoin Mac Cárthaigh, Trinity College Dublin, and details the remarkable life story of one of the first group of women elected to Royal Irish Academy Membership. Written in both Irish and English, the chapter focuses on Eleanor Knott, MRIA, 1886-1975, one of the first women elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1949.

 Eleanor Marie Knott, MRIA, 1886-1975

The book is the third volume of the ALLEA book series Discourses on Intellectual Europe, which includes two additional volumes: “The Boundaries of Europe” and “The Role of Music in European Integration”, both in open access.

About the book

Authors: Eberhard Knobloch, Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger, Eva Haettner Aurelius, Jan Kusber, Paolo Sommella, Pat Thane, Hanna krajewska, Doris A. Corradini, Katja Geiger, Brigitte Mazohl, Ramon Pinyol, Patricia Fasse, Eoin Mac Cárthaigh, Minna Silver, Eleanor Dodson.
More information about how to acquire the book is available here. The foreword is available here.


ALLEA is the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities, representing more than 50 academies from over 40 countries in Europe. Since its foundation in 1994, ALLEA speaks out on behalf of its members on the European and international stages, promotes science as a global public good, and facilitates scientific collaboration across borders and disciplines. Jointly with its Member Academies, ALLEA works towards improving the conditions for research, providing the best independent and interdisciplinary science advice, and strengthening the role of science in society. In doing so, it channels the intellectual excellence and experience of European academies for the benefit of the research community, decision-makers and the public.

About the book series

The ALLEA book series Discourses on Intellectual Europe seeks to explore the question of an intrinsic or quintessential European identity, its roots, and how European scientists and scholars can actively contribute to the discourse that will shape Europe’s future. Major topics of pan-European interest and importance are addressed by eminent fellows of European academies and outstanding scholars of various European countries in order to gather views from different national and cultural perspectives. This concept as well as publishing each article in both the original language and English translation reflects the diversity of languages and cultures in Europe and represents a differentiating characteristic for the series.

For media inquiries:

Susana Irles, ALLEA Communications and Media Relations Officer
Free copies for reviewers and media are available upon request at

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