2023 Mary C. Rabbitt History and Philosophy of Geology Award

Presented to Claudine Cohen

Claudine Cohen
Momoko Seto

Claudine Cohen
L’école des Hautes Études en Sciences, Paris


Citation by Andre Wakefield

It gives me the greatest pleasure to recognize Dr. Claudine Cohen, recipient of the 2023 Mary C. Rabbitt Award. I can think of nobody more deserving. Born in Tunisia, Dr. Cohen taught at the University of Paris before being elected and serving as full professor at both the École des Hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) and the École pratique des hautes études (EPHE). Paris long served as her home base for teaching and research, even as she traveled the world, from natural history museums to libraries to the permafrost of Siberia.

The sheer volume of Dr. Cohen’s work, both articles and books, makes any kind of systemic overview impossible here, nor is that the most important thing. It is the range, depth, creativity and unexpectedness of her work that matter. She is, on the one hand, a scholar’s scholar, immersing herself in archives and manuscripts, in translating and editing; she is, on the other hand, adept at engaging a wide public in seemingly arcane issues by dint of unusual gifts. Her friend and colleague Stephen J. Gould, who wrote the Foreword to her Fate of the Mammoth (2002), concluded that Dr. Cohen had that rare ability to weave together the strands of the past—technical, historical, mythical—all the while producing deeper insights into the history of paleontology itself.

Since we first met in 1999, I have watched Dr. Cohen harness that ability to slide into different registers, whether scholarly or popular or artistic, with increasing impact and success. Her work on prehistoric women, especially her La femme des origines (2003) and Femmes de la Préhistoire (2016), have had a major impact in France and beyond, stoking media discussions and even inspiring choreography and cabaret. It has been gratifying to see public consciousness come around to her way of thinking.

I am delighted that my friend and colleague, Claudine Cohen, is getting recognition for many decades of original and pathbreaking work. It is richly deserved; there is more to come.


Response by Claudine Cohen

I thank warmly André Wakefield for his generous and touching words. Our edition and translation from Latin into English of Leibniz's Protogea is perhaps, among my publications, the one of which I am most proud, and I am grateful to him for our collaboration and long friendship. Till today I keep a deep interest in Early Modern Theories of the Earth (my annotated edition of Benoît de Maillet’s Telliamed just came out in France last week!). I am convinced that, far from being outdated and inconsistent beginnings, these Earth Theories can be fruitfully reread by historians, philosophers of science and scientists, in a time when “Earth system science” strongly constitutes Geosciences as a unitary domain.

I address my deepest thanks to the Award Committee of the Geological Society of America, and to my colleagues of the History and Philosophy of Geology Division, for awarding me the Mary C. Rabbitt prize, which I am proud and happy to accept today. This American award, named after a great woman scientist, is a special honor for a French woman scholar who has long and strong ties with the United States. My stays as a visiting scholar and professor in a number of American institutions enabled me to explore my favorite research themes, the history of paleontology, geology, prehistoric archaeology and related disciplines, with novel methods. I was trained in France under such masters as Gaston Bachelard and Georges Canguilhem who mostly cultivated internal, epistemological inquiries: to me, the discovery of sociological perspectives and the study of scientific practices carried out by English and American scholars were particularly enriching. The 1994 Penrose conference entitled History of Geology: From the Inside or the Outside? was seminal: it opened up large horizons, and helped me draw new perspectives in my teachings at the Paris Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, as well as in my books, such as The Fate of the Mammoth (2003) or La Méthode de Zadig (2011) in which I strive to weave together epistemological and historical approaches to the study of proof and evidence in geology and palaeontology. American Prehistoric archaeology also inspired to me a whole range of questions about the place of women in Prehistory. Thanks to this inspiration, the publication of my Femme des origines in 2003 opened in France a domain which now flourishes there into a large and consistent field of research.

I want to thank, finally, my colleagues of the International Commission on the History of Geological Sciences. Year after year, INHIGEO meetings have been, and still are a wonderful source of exchanges and discoveries, through intellectual debates and field explorations. I had the chance and honor of meeting there such wonderful colleagues as Martin Rudwick, Steven Jay Gould, Ken Taylor, Sandra Herbert, Marianne Klemun and many others, who became my friends and privileged interlocutors. The first INHIGEO symposium in which I participated in 1995, on Volcanoes and History, was magnificently organized by Nicoletta Morello, great Italian historian and dear friend who left us too soon: I would like to dedicate this award to her memory.