Joan Cadden (historian)

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Joan Cadden
Alma materVassar College, Columbia University, Indiana University,
OccupationHistorian of science, Kenyon College, University of California, Davis
AwardsPfizer Award

Joan Cadden (born 1944) is Professor Emerita of medieval history and literature in the History Department of the University of California, Davis. She served as President of the History of Science Society (HSS) from 2006-2007. She has written extensively on gender and sexuality in medieval science and medicine. Her book Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Age: Medicine, Science, and Culture (1993) received the Pfizer Prize in 1994, from the History of Science Society, as the outstanding book on the history of science.

Early life and education[edit]

Joan Cadden received her B.A. from Vassar College in 1965,[1] and her M.A. degree from Columbia University in 1967, writing her thesis on De elementis: Earth, Water, Air, and Fire in the 12th and 13th Centuries. She completed her Ph.D. in history and philosophy of science at Indiana University in 1971. Her Ph.D. thesis was The Medieval Philosophy and Biology of Growth: Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Albert of Saxony and Marsilius of Inghen on Book I, Chapter V of Aristotle’s ‘De generatione et corruptione,’ with Translated Texts of Albertus and Thomas Aquinas.[2]


Cadden taught as an assistant professor in the Department of History of Science at Harvard University from 1971-1976.[1] She was a visiting lecturer in history at the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1977-1978.[3] She taught at Kenyon College from 1978-1996.[1] She was a Dibner Visiting Historian of Science at Purdue University Calumet in 1996-1997.[4] She joined the University of California at Davis in 1996 as Professor of History.[1] Cadden served as President of the History of Science Society (HSS) from 2006-2007.[5] She retired and became Professor Emeritus at UC Davis in 2008.[6][7]

Her work has been characterized as exploring the "seams of disciplines"—the connections between history of science, gender history, history of sexuality, social history, and intellectual history.[8] Methodologically, she broke new ground, paying "particular attention to the cultural and social milieux these sources were produced in; to the assumptions and expectations of authors and readers; to questions of form, style, and presentation."[9]

Her book Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Age: Medicine, Science, and Culture (1993) was groundbreaking in its examination of sex and gender, and has deeply influenced subsequent scholarship.[6][8][9] Cadden examines the discussions of sexual difference from Aristotle through the fourteenth century, revealing a wide range of ideas about sexual determination, reproductive roles and sexual pleasure.[10] She finds multiple models of sexuality in writings throughout the middles ages.[11] This challenged Thomas Laqueur's assertion in Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (1990) that male and female were seen as "manifestations of a unified substratum" before the 18th century.[12] Cadden addressed medieval discourse in all its "staggering complexity", an "interconnectedness of intellectual interests" that was "far from comforting" in its diversity.[8]

She went on to research Pietro D'Abano and to explore the complexities of medieval natural philosophers' understanding of homosexual desire in her book Nothing Natural Is Shameful: Sodomy and Science in Late Medieval Europe (2013).[13] Although she recognizes its limitations, she uses the medieval term "sodomy" to avoid conflation with modern senses of the term "homosexuality". Discussion focuses around Aristotle's Problemata IV.26 and its questioning of male-male sexual desire.[14] The book has been described as "a sophisticated reflection on sex and sexuality."[13]


Her book Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Age: Medicine, Science, and Culture (1993) received the 1994 Pfizer Prize for outstanding book on the history of science from the History of Science Society.[15] It was the first book on gender studies and the first book in thirty years on medieval studies, to win that award.[6]

Her work was celebrated at two sessions at the 44th annual International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2009 by the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship. The Medieval Foremothers Society honored Joan Cadden in the sessions “Thinking beyond the ‘Woman Writer’ in Reconstructing Women’s Intellectual Worlds,” and “(New) Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture (A Roundtable).” These were later published in the Medieval Feminist Forum (2010).[16]

"By listening to multiple voices and embodying synthesis in her own life and career, Joan has allowed us to see a Middle Ages that was always there but was waiting for a skilled interpreter to reveal it." - Monica Green[6]


  1. ^ a b c d "Research Scholars and Guests". Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  2. ^ Africa, Chris (2010). "A Joan Cadden Bibliography". Medieval Feminist Forum. 46 (1): 127–128. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  3. ^ "Back Matter". Isis. 69 (1): 155–158. 1978. doi:10.1086/isis.69.1.230676. JSTOR 230676.
  4. ^ "Dibner Visiting Historian of Science Program Records, 1992-2001" (PDF). Smithsonian Institution Archives. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  5. ^ "Society Past Presidents". History of Science Society. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d Green, Monica H. (2010). "Introduction to Tributes to Joan Cadden". Medieval Feminist Forum. 46 (1): 63–65. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  7. ^ "Joan Cadden". UC Davis Department of History. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  8. ^ a b c Puff, Helmut (2010). "Homagium: Joan Cadden's "Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages"". Medieval Feminist Forum. 46 (1): 122–126. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  9. ^ a b Lugt, Maaike van der (2010). "Sex Difference in Medieval Theology and Canon Law: A Tribute to Joan Cadden". Medieval Feminist Forum. 46 (1): 101–121. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  10. ^ Park, Katharine (1995). "Reviewed Work: The Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture by Joan Cadden". Journal of the History of Biology. 28 (3): 551–553. doi:10.1007/bf01059393. JSTOR 4331368.
  11. ^ Dreger, Alice D.; Schiebinger, Londa (1998). "Gender and Sex". In Hessenbruch, Arne (ed.). Reader's guide to the history of science. London: Fitzroy Dearborn. pp. 287–288. ISBN 9781884964299. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  12. ^ Park, Katharine (2010). "Cadden, Laqueur, and the "One-Sex Body"". Medieval Feminist Forum. 46 (1): 96–100. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  13. ^ a b "Nothing Natural Is Shameful Sodomy and Science in Late Medieval Europe". University of Pennsylvania Press. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  14. ^ Kuffner, Emily (2014). "Nothing Natural Is Shameful: Sodomy and Science in Late Medieval Europe by Joan Cadden". Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies. 45 (1): 215–218. doi:10.1353/cjm.2014.0071. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  15. ^ Peek, Wendy Chapman (1995). "Book Reviews". Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. 50 (4): 563–564. doi:10.1093/jhmas/50.4.563. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  16. ^ "Front matter". Medieval Feminist Forum. 46 (1). 2010. Retrieved 19 February 2016.

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