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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: 22 September 2021

Harvard and Other Imperfect Mechanisms

Harvard and Other Imperfect Mechanisms

(p.190) Chapter Eight Harvard and Other Imperfect Mechanisms
Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers

Tamara Plakins Thornton

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter examines Bowditch’s drive to transform three institutions fundamental to the Boston elite--the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Boston Athenaeum, and Harvard University—into clockwork mechanisms functioning with rule-bound regularity. Bowditch’s Laplacean vision did not distinguish between for-profit and not-for-profit corporations, and he applied his characteristic systematizing impulses to the chaos he found in the cultural institutions’ library collections, financial accounts, institutional records, and administrative conduct. When he forced the resignation of Harvard’s president, critiquing him as an incompetent who followed personal inclinations over corporation rules, elite Bostonians censured Bowditch as a parvenu lacking the “delicacy” that comes with a collegiate education. The controversy exposed internal divisions in the city’s elite and raised questions of just what it took to be a true patrician in a republic.

Keywords:   Bowditch, Nathaniel, Elites, Boston, Massachusetts, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Boston Athenaeum, Harvard University, Corporations, Impersonal institutions, Information systems, Libraries

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