When Does the Genius do the Chores? Knowledge, Auto/Biography and Gender

Marie Reidemeister and Otto Neurath: interwoven lives and work





Isotype, visual education, collaborative couples, crossgender collaboration


Otto Neurath and Marie Reidemeister were both part of an interdisciplinary team which developed the ‘Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics’ (later known as Isotype). Neurath is usually credited as the ‘inventor’ of Isotype, yet Reidemeister was a key figure in this work of visual education from the beginning. After Neurath’s death in 1945, she continued the Isotype work for two and a half decades. Marie Reidemeister also became a historian of Isotype and, in the 1970s and 1980s, she was involved in editing publications about Otto Neurath, helping to shape and correct the record of his life and work. This paper explores the challenges faced by female surviving partners who have worked intensively with their spouses for a long time and later work on their legacy. What problems arise from the effort to honour the deceased partner for one’s own visibility as a researcher? Marie Reidemeister’s role and attitude deserve examination for not fully conforming to the stereotype of a widow anxious to control the reputation of a deceased partner; neither did she attempt to present herself as the ‘great woman behind a great man’, instead calmly recording facts that establish her as a pioneer of information design.

Author Biographies

Christopher Burke, University of Reading

Christopher Burke is a designer, and design historian. He co-edited Otto Neurath’s ‘visual autobiography’ From hieroglyphics to Isotype (2010) and was co-curator of the exhibitions ‘Isotype: international picture language’ (Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2010) and ‘Time(less) signs: Otto Neurath and reflections in contemporary Austrian art’ (Austrian Cultural Forum, London, 2014). Burke was also a major contributor to the book Isotype: design and contexts, 1925–1971 (2013).

Günther Sandner, University of Vienna

Günther Sandner is a political scientist and historian. He published a biography of Otto Neurath in 2014 and edited, among others, a book on Rosa and Anna Schapire in 2017 (together with Burcu Dogramaci). He heads the research project Isotype: Origin, development, and legacy. In 2022, his book Weltsprache ohne Worte. Rudolf Modley, Margaret Mead und das Glyphs-Projekt will be published. He is a research fellow at the Institute Vienna Circle at the University of Vienna.





When Does the Genius do the Chores? Knowledge, Auto/Biography and Gender