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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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PRINTED FROM UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.northcarolina.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of North Carolina Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NCSO for personal use.date: 27 September 2021

The Navigator

The Navigator

(p.57) Chapter Three The Navigator
Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers

Tamara Plakins Thornton

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter focuses on the content, significance, critique, and ultimate success of Bowditch’s New American Practical Navigator (1802). A revised and expanded version of an English nautical manual, Bowditch’s Navigator held nationalist appeal, but it was the unprecedented accuracy of its navigation tables that soon made it the standard authority on America’s trading and naval vessels. Bowditch had recalculated thousands of table values, a massive computational task that followed on his longstanding reputation for solving complex mathematical puzzles in feats of mental arithmetic. Among Europeans, such feats had once been the mark of extraordinary intellect, but were now equated with the machine-like labors of Charles Babbage’s calculating engine. Bowditch, however, found pleasure in computation, delighting in the certitude and abstraction of numbers. And Americans celebrated Bowditch’s achievement with an honorary Harvard degree and membership in Boston’s American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Keywords:   Bowditch, Nathaniel, New American Practical Navigator, Navigation, Mathematics, Mathematicians, Astronomy, Harvard University, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

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