Found in the archives: Joanna Russ lecture notes

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By Elaina Vitale, Assistant Librarian

Cover of Russ's Philosophy of Science notebook.Joanna Russ wrote a number of feminist and science fiction texts throughout her long writing career. Her most famous, The female man, was published in 1975 and heralded the dawn of feminist science fiction. Uniquely for the time and genre, she wrote of women as distinct individuals unbound by gender roles. Russ won the prestigious Nebula and Hugo prizes for her various fictions, and prodigiously journaled and corresponded for most of her life.

Reading list with annotations.Russ earned her undergraduate degree at Cornell University in 1957. In 1955, as an 18 year old, she enrolled in Professor Max Black’s Philosophy 327 class—The Philosophy of Science. Black was a philosopher, self-pronounced ‘lapsed mathematician,’ and prolific writer.

Russ saved all relevant course material for Philosophy 327, including the syllabus, required and supplementary readings and her course notebook. She was a meticulous, thoughtful note-taker, and her course notebook for Philosophy 327 is entirely full. Assignments are taped on pages throughout at intervals. Russ noted her often amusing thoughts on most of the 48 supplementary readings (of J.D. Bernal’s Social function of science she wrote: “Marxist. Controversial., of N. Campell’s What is science? she wrote: “Wrong-headed (!)” and of B. Russell’s Analysis of matter she wrote: “difficult, worth it.”)

Sample notebook page.Her notes are questioning, intelligent and beautiful. She quotes Reichenbach and responds quizzically to his quote “BUT: there is still only one logic, used in all these geometries. Why does it work? A conclusion doesn’t extend premises; it only makes clear what is implicit in them already. Still: why does it work?”

We may never know if Black’s class impacted Russ’s oeuvre in any way, or if she ever referenced her detailed notes for one of her books or essays. With thoughtful cataloging and stable archival housing, we can, however, guarantee that her notebook and notes are available to researchers for generations to come.   

Sample notebook page.Russ’s lectures notes join NBLA’s many other lecture note and course notebook holdings. To search our collection of similar titles, search “notebooks” or similar terms in our catalog and limit your search to “Archival collections held at AIP.” Russ’s papers are held at the University of Oregon.