Uncertain Territories exhibition explores unheralded research

10 January 2023
Microscope used by Dr Ann Sanderson in the 1930s
The ground-breaking work of women in art and science is celebrated as part of a new University of Dundee exhibition.

Uncertain Territories features work by pioneering female scientists and artists who have explored the natural world in different but often connected ways.

The free exhibition, in the University’s Tower Foyer Gallery, features artefacts, specimens and artworks drawn from the University’s Museum Collections, all relating to artists and scientists from Dundee and beyond.

Matthew Jarron, Curator, said that the exhibition was an opportunity to highlight the value and quality of work that had been unfairly overlooked at the time.

He said, “When the University was founded, one of its founding principles was that male and female students could study here on equal terms. In practice this was not always realised. Women were then unable to gain the same degree qualifications as men and often faced prejudice from male students. 

“While many scientific professions were male-dominated well into the 20th century, women were able to make their mark in the natural sciences, perhaps because of the long tradition of amateur female botanists. Art, flower studies and other scenes of nature were also considered acceptable subjects by an artistic establishment that was controlled by men.

Content continues after advertisements

“Whether through pioneering research, collecting or creating, these women have helped us to understand nature and the world around us.”

Pioneering scientists

Among the scientists featured are Doris Mackinnon, who came to the University in 1909 as assistant to D’Arcy Thompson, Professor of Biology. She became an expert on protozoa - single-celled parasitic organisms - gaining her doctorate in this area in 1914. Her research on parasites included work on malaria and other insect-borne diseases, which are still a key research area for the University’s School of Life Sciences today. In 1917, she succeeded D’Arcy Thompson as head of the Natural History department in Dundee and two years later moved to King’s College London, becoming its first female professor in 1927.

Today, Dundee is at the forefront of collaborations between artists and scientists, with the exhibition also featuring botanical illustrations by Edith Philip Smith from the 1920s and a teaching chart created by zoology student Ann B Adam in the 1930s. 

Uncertain Territories runs until 1 April and is open Mon-Fri 9.30am-7pm, Sat 11am-4pm. Admission is free. Find out more on the University of Dundee website.

Content continues after advertisement