Archaeology of the Female Intellectual Identity: Women, Philosophy, and Academia in Early Modern Europe

During the early modern period, women’s intellectual identity was a contested matter. While it is true that for the first time in history women entered the intellectual sphere in large numbers, still women’s access to formal education, professions, and the public sphere was restricted and conditioned by certain gender roles and expectations. In particular, it was difficult for women to become recognised as philosophers. Indeed, a female philosopher was often understood as a contradiction in terms. This had serious implications not just for women engaged in philosophy and their subsequent representation in the historiography of philosophy, but also on the understanding of what philosophy is. Academic philosophy became a male-dominated discipline that confined itself within narrow limits disregarding not just women philosophers, but also traditions, topics, and genres connotated as female.

With this conference, we intend to explore early modern female intellectual identities and their impact on the understanding of intellectual virtues and on the development of academic philosophy. The term female intellectual identity is not understood in any essentialist manner, but as a specific yet contingent set of ascriptions and self-descriptions that developed under certain historical conditions. This raises a series of questions, such as: What character traits were associated with or dissociated from female intellectuals? What strategies did women develop to participate in intellectual discourses and to express their thoughts? What topics where women interested in? Which intellectual activities and traditions were open/closed to women? What role did education, talent, and regional differences play in this process? Which impact did the exclusion of women from academia have on the understanding of academic virtues and on the development of academic philosophy?

The conference will focus on these and related questions within the following areas:

Women on the fringe: Geographical regions, Genres, and Traditions

  • Women writers of peripheral regions (e.g., Scandinavia, Europe’s South)
  • The impact of genres on the production and reception of philosophical thought
  • Various philosophical traditions and their relevance for women’s engagement with philosophy

Methodological considerations

  • Rethinking historiographical categories
  • Philosophy in and outside academia
  • Mechanisms of exclusion
  • Challenges in developing strategies for inclusion

Contemporary perspectives: What can be learnt from the past and how do we change the future?

  • What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?
  • Neglected figures, topics, and genres: What is missing in philosophy?
  • Neglected virtues, values, and approaches: What is missing in academia?

The aim of this conference is to bring together scholars working in different fields, to explore early modern female intellectual identities from various perspectives. By asking how the female intellectual was imagined and constructed during the early modern period, the conference will allow new perspectives and insights in the mechanisms that kept women out of academia and the discipline of philosophy.


Please register at:


Read the abstracts 



9.00-9.15 Arrival
9.15-9.30 Sabrina Ebbersmeyer (University of Copenhagen)
I Women on the Fringes
9.30-10.15 Anne Marie Mai (University of Southern Denmark)
The Intellectual Praxis of The Noble Woman Anne Krabbe (1552–1618)
10.15-11.00 Carme Font Paz (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)
On Divine Bondage: Obedience and Freedom of Conscience as Paths for Intellectual Inquiry in Early Modern Women Spiritual Writings
11.00-11.30 Coffee break
11.30-12.15 Maria Nørby Pedersen (University of Copenhagen)
Between pious writing and scholarly thesis. Birgitte Thott’s ‘On the Path to a Happy Life’ (ca. 1659)
12.15-13.00 Rosa Skytt Burr (University of Copenhagen)
Subverting Supra Sexum: Birgitte Thott on Women’s Intellectual Limits
13.00-15.00 Lunch break
15.00-15.45 Jacqueline Broad (Monash University, Melbourne)
Stoic Ethics in Astell and Chudleigh: Virtue, Dignity, and the Passions
15.45-16.00 Anne-Sophie Sørup Wandall (University of Copenhagen)
“While saying that they were wise, they made themselves fools”: Anna Maria van Schurman’s Criticism of Metaphysics
16.30-17.00 Coffee break 
17.00-17.45 Matilda Amundsen Bergström (University of Gothenburg)
“Fire, Depth, Learning, Taste”. Hedvig Charlotta Nordenflycht’s Poetic Philosophy and its Fate in History
17.45-18.30 Elisabet Göransson (Lund University)
Comments on the presentations of the day and discussion



II Methodological considerations 
9.30-10.15 Sarah Hutton (University of York)
Letters, Philosophy and Women Philosophers: Elisabeth of Bohemia, Anne Conway and Damaris Masham
10.15-11.00 Sabrina Ebbersmeyer (University of Copenhagen)
Can Female Philosophers Be Ingenious? On Elisabeth of Bohemia and the debate about the ingenium philosophicum
11.00-11.30 Coffee break
11.30-12.15 Andrew Janiak (Duke University)
How Du Châtelet was excluded from the modern philosophy canon at its inception
12.15-13.00 Paola Rumore (University of Turin)
Wilhelmine von Bayreuth's thought on philosophy according to a still unpublished manuscript
13.00-15.00 Lunch break
15.00-15.45 Martin Fog Lantz Arndal (University of Copenhagen)
Mary Wollstonecraft as a Natural Philosopher
15.45-16.30 Martina Reuter (University of Jyväskylä)
The Construction of a Female Intellectual: Mary Wollstonecraft in Åbo Tidningar 1797 and 1830
16.30-17.00 Coffee break 
17.00-17.45 Kristin Gjesdal (Temple University)
Nature, Poetry, and Politics: Karoline von Günderrode og Bettina Brentano von Arnim
19.00 Conference Dinner



9.30-10.15 Corey W. Dyck (University of Western Ontario)
The Inclusive Enlightenment: Women’s Reception of the Ideals of the German Enlightenment
III Contemporary perspectives:  What can be learnt from the past and how do we change the future?
10.15-11.00 Bente Rosenbeck (University of Copenhagen)
The trouble between women, gender and science in modernity – a historical approach
11.00-11.30 Coffee break
11.30-12.15 Eyja M. J. Brynjarsdóttir (University of Iceland)
Female Philosophical Identity in the 21st Century
12.15-13.00 Closing discussion