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VIRTUAL EVENT: Member's Choice: Practical Purposes

Tuesday, June 9, 2020 - 6:30pm to 7:30pm
Registration is requested
Free and open to the public

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Member’s Choice: Practical Purposes

with Scott B. Guthery

The Athenæum has digitized its books borrowed registers—twenty-six volumes with more than 18,000 pages—which record books borrowed from the Athenæum (and, for the most part, returned) between 1827 and 1872.  

This Member's Choice discussion presents a research expedition in this literary treasure trove, focusing particularly on books and periodicals concerning scientific and technical topics recorded between 1827 and 1850. 

During this period, 388 Athenæum members checked out 3,761 books on hydraulics, chemistry, botany, mathematics, astronomy, and mineralogy, and more. Two of those members were prolific children's literature authors, Samuel Goodrich and Jacob Abbott, whose business endeavors—like those of many other library members—benefitted from reading in the Athenæum's collection.

The evening's conversation will start with a sketch of some non-intuitive results of this research as reported in Scott Guthery's book, Practical Purposes: Readers in Experimental Philosophy at the Boston Athenæum (1827-1850), and will then expand to consider other questions that might be asked of the Athenæum's books borrowed registers.

Scott B. Guthery, Ph. D., is a life-long inventor, entrepreneur, and mathematician, with computer science career stops at Bell Laboratories, Schlumberger, and Microsoft.  He is the founder of Docent Press (, which publishes books on the history of mathematics, computing, and technology.  Not surprisingly, Scott’s tours of the Athenæum always stop at the second-floor statue of Nathanial Bowditch, an accomplished nineteenth-century mathematician, navigator, and Athenæum Proprietor.




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To request real-time captions for this event, please contact Hannah Weisman at or 617-720-7617 no fewer than four business days prior to the event.