NHA University Virtual Event: Not Just a Practical Navigator: A New Look at Nathaniel Bowditch, 19th-Century Numbers Man

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In an illustrated talk, historian and biographer Tamara Plakins Thornton offers a fresh look at the life and work of Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838), the author of the New American Practical Navigator, for decades the must-have manual for America’s sailors.  Thomas Jefferson celebrated the Salem-born astronomer as “a meteor of the hemisphere,” but Bowditch was also a prominent business executive whose devotion to systems that ran with clockwork regularity shaped the faceless bureaucracies of modern life.  Meet this peppery Yankee, who voyaged around the globe, became a Fellow of London’s Royal Society, pioneered the modern trust, and even shook up Harvard.


Tamara Plakins Thornton is Professor of History at the State University of New York, Buffalo  She received her Bachelor’s in the History of Science from Harvard and her Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale. She is the author of three books in American cultural and social history, most recently Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers: How a Nineteenth-Century Man of Business, Science, and the Sea Changed American Life, published by UNC Press in 2016, and just released in paperback. The book received the John Lyman Book Award from the North American Society for Oceanic History, the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize, and was a finalist for the New England Society Book Award.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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