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Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers

Thursday, December 15, 2016 - 6:00pm to 7:00pm
Members Free and Non-members $15

Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers

Tamara Plakins Thornton

Tamara Plakins Thornton will present on the life and work of Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838), a man Thomas Jefferson once called a “meteor in the hemisphere.” A mathematician, astronomer, navigator, seafarer, business executive, and transformational Athenæum Trustee, Bowditch’s Enlightenment-inspired perspectives shaped nineteenth century capitalism while broadly transforming daily American life. Enthralled with the precision and certainty of numbers and the unerring regularity of the physical universe, Bowditch operated and represented some of New England's most powerful institutions—from financial corporations to Harvard College—as clockwork mechanisms. By examining Bowditch’s innovative approach to the administration of institutions as well as the political and social controversies this method provoked, Thornton’s biography sheds new light on the rise of capitalism, American science, and the social elite in the early Republic.

Tamara Plakins Thornton is a Professor of History at the State University of New York, Buffalo. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard College and a PhD from Yale University. Thornton’s research interests include American cultural and intellectual history, early republic and antebellum America, capitalist culture, and the structure of intellectual life.

Professor Thornton notes that Nathaniel Bowditch was an important member and Trustee of the Athenæum in the 1820s and 30s, and his reform of the library figures in her book. She conducted extensive research for her biography in the Athenæum archives.

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