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Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers"How a Nineteenth-Century Man of Business, Science, and the Sea Changed American Life"$
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Tamara Plakins Thornton

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781469626932

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469626932.001.0001

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(p.1) Introduction
Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers

Tamara Plakins Thornton

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter introduces Nathaniel Bowditch first as contemporaries celebrated him, and then as we should understand him: a man whose mathematical sensibilities transformed the world of practical affairs, pioneering the impersonal procedures and institutions associated with modern capitalism and modern life. Insistent on order and exactitude, Bowditch instituted new systems to organize information and execute business, including filing and cataloging systems, printed blank forms, and inflexible due dates. Inspired by the regularity and predictability of the solar system, he forwarded a vision of the corporation as a clockwork mechanism. The chapter sketches out the main features of Bowditch’s life and character; considers the provincial and cosmopolitan impulses, and the vertical ties of patronage and horizontal ties of elite privilege, that operated over the course of his lifetime; and briefly considers the place of the impersonal institution in the historiographies of the state and of capitalism.

Keywords:   Bowditch, Nathaniel, Mathematics, Science, Capitalism, Corporations, Impersonal institutions, Bureaucracy, Elites

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