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Title: The Wasp and the Orchid: Edith Coleman’s contribution to the study of Australian Orchids
Applicant: Dr. Danielle Clode
Institution: Flinders University, South Australia
Edith Coleman (1874-1951) was a productive and prolific naturalist and nature-writer whose discovery of pseudocopulation in Australian orchids generated worldwide interest. She was published widely in Australian newspapers and magazines and, in 1949, was the first woman to be awarded the Australian Natural History Medallion. Her work continues to be cited in the scientific literature on orchid pollination today. Despite the scientific significance of her work and the popularity of her nature writing at the time, there is relatively little work devoted to the contribution of Edith Coleman to Australian natural history and particularly, to the study of native orchids. This project will result in a biography of Edith Coleman and her work, drawing on her relationships with other eminent naturalists of the time. This work is intended to highlight the contribution that non-professional naturalists, and particularly women, have made to the botanical sciences and orchid biology and the importance of nature-writing in the popular communication of science.
This project has produced the first substantive biography of Edith Coleman’s life using published material, previously unpublished family history and archival resources. The project has significantly expanded the known bibliography of Coleman’s published work, from 159 published articles (the majority in Victorian Naturalist) to 246 articles. The bibliography is accompanied by electronic copies of the majority of these articles, many of which have also been transcribed. The biography and a selection of Coleman’s popular articles have been prepared for publication as an anthology and are currently in submission with publishers. Pending book publication arrangements, the complete bibliography to Edith’s work will be made publicly available online in addition to further articles.
The Coleman project was intended to both bring Edith Coleman’s work to greater public attention and to promote science writing as a genre among creative writing and science students. Wendy Otero has completed her Honours thesis on Coleman’s work and her association with other Australian female nature-writers, Rica Erikson and Jean Galbraith. Susan Double completed a third year research project on Coleman’s work on pseudocopulation which formed the basis of an Ockham’s Razor segment on Radio National and which has been published in Orchids Australia Magazine. Our work has been presented at two national conferences and has resulted in collaboration with Dr Jim Endersby at the University of Sussex, researching the cultural history of orchids. This project has highlighted the significant contribution that non-professional naturalists, and particularly women, like Edith Coleman, have made to the botanical sciences and orchid biology and the importance of nature-writing in the popular communication of science.