RUSTY NEVER SLEEPS (With Apologies to Neil Young)
It was quite a coincidence that I spoke with this month’s speaker on January 12th. It was, for those who don’t know, Kiss a Ginger Day and Ann Shteir is much better known as ‘Rusty’ for good reason. That’s what her parents began calling her since “before I [she] was born”, she claims, when you could say they both willed their unborn child to be a redhead.
Despite being a Professor Emerita at York University, Rusty Shteir is anything but the other potential significance of her charming name. In fact, she’s quite energized by the task of putting together a workshop for York next year. And her unquenchable curiosity will keep her researching the topic she will be discussing with us, for a long time to come. That is, like much research interests and work, the focus often begins in one place—comparative literature, specifically German Romantic plant imagery—and takes many turns as she delves into her work about womens’ relationship to science and more specifically, botany.
As a young PhD student, she was excited to have grant money with which to travel to Switzerland to study the works of a male Swiss botanist/poet. But she was non-plussed by the daunting prospect of having to decipher his decidedly terrible handwriting in the depths of the country’s dusty archives, so she switched the topic to English women botanists when she happened upon a reference to their work. And that set the stage for a great part of her research since then, with all manner of twists and turns inside the broader topic… that is, the intellectual relationship, the experience, and the work of women in the intellectual field of botany. She began with European women and, as of ten years ago or so, her attention was drawn to the women working in Canada in the 19th century who discovered our plants, studied and documented them, and… well, she will tell us all about what else they did!
As for gardening, Rusty considers herself more of an inside gardener, but her work has clearly touched her deeply, for in her address to last June’s graduating class at York University, wherein she received an honorary doctorate of laws, she said,
“As I see it, knowledge of ideas and writings from earlier times is a springboard as we get our hands into the soil of our world, and use the tools of our own education to cultivate our gardens.”
She no doubt has lovely indoor plant gardens, but in her nearly 45 years in academia, where she is a respected scholar in the field of Women and Science, she also created the garden of graduate Women’s Studies at York, and has cultivated, nurtured, no doubt weeded, and helped raise to maturity a great number of students.
Please come out to learn about this fascinating field of research to add some depth to your historical knowledge of the plants of Canada and most importantly, the women whose work helped to establish it.