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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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Final Reckonings

Final Reckonings

(p.243) Chapter Ten Final Reckonings
Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers

Tamara Plakins Thornton

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter first examines the many biographical representations of Bowditch, most notably as the self-made man, and the cultural and social forces that shaped those representations. It then considers where Bowditch in fact made his most significant impact—as a pioneer in the creation of impersonal institutions and bureaucratic practices. His life points to the role of the mathematical sciences in shaping the ways capitalist institutions operated and legitimated their operations; steers us away from considering the emergence of bureaucratic machinery as associated solely with either the state or with the business corporation; underscores how business, cultural, charitable, educational corporations worked together to extend the strength, reach, and longevity of elite power; and complicates the narrative of capitalist transformation as a straightforward transition from a personal to an impersonal world.

Keywords:   Bowditch, Nathaniel, Elites, Capitalism, Impersonal institutions, Bureaucracy, Mathematics, Science, Corporations, Information systems, State control and surveillance

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