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Tamara Plakins Thornton, “Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers”

Tamara Plakins Thornton, “Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers”

December 15, 2016 at the Boston Athenæum.

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.