Grace Exley

Research summary

In collaboration with the University of Leeds, Grace’s AHRC-funded doctoral project focusses on the changing activity of women in nineteenth-century Oxford geology. Although the history of geology in Oxford – and in Britain more generally – is dominated by male actors, such as John Phillips, the first Director of the Museum, and William Buckland, the first Reader of Geology, many of these figures depended on the invisible labour of women in their work. Both Buckland’s wife, Mary, and Phillips’s sister, Anne, were two of Oxford’s many active, but overlooked, female geologists.

Using both written sources from the Museum’s archives and material culture from its collections, the project aims to restore the long-overshadowed women of geology to visibility. The project will interrogate objects and collections to understand and contextualise the increasingly public geological activities women undertook. As well as piecing together women’s roles in Oxford geology, the project should also yield insights into the shifting opportunities and roles for women in the sciences more broadly. By comparing women’s activities in geology to other field sciences, such as botany and astronomy, Grace hopes to begin to analyse the changing roles of women in science in Victorian and Edwardian Britain.


Grace recently completed her studies at the University of Cambridge, where she achieved her BA and MSci degrees in the Natural Sciences, specialising in the History of Science. In 2019, Grace undertook a summer internship at the Cavendish Laboratory, where she catalogued and researched objects in the Laboratory’s Historical Collection. During this time, she became interested in the images of the Laboratory’s (usually nameless) female research students, which led her to pursue women’s history in her MSci studies. This culminated in a dissertation examining girls’ opportunities in the sciences in 1950s Britain through careers resources, drawing on comic books as an unusual source material! From 2019 to 2021, Grace was Co-President of Cambridge Hands-On Science (CHaOS), a science outreach society. Leading CHaOS involved working with museums and other public venues to engage children with science. She is very excited by the opportunities working with the Museum offers to share historical research with visitors of all ages!