Date of Award

2015

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

History

First Advisor

Ann Johnson

Abstract

This dissertation analyzes practices of science and technology in the early United States as windows onto the American Enlightenment. Although scholars have emphasized the important impact of Enlightenment thought on the American founding, the historiography tends to argue for the decreasing influence of the Enlightenment on American culture as the nineteenth century progressed. In addition, scholars tend to see a decline in American science after Benjamin Franklin as nineteenth-century Americans began to focus primarily on the practical problems of everyday life. I question these interpretations by connecting scientific practice in the Early Republic with transatlantic Enlightenment thought and analyzing American conversations about knowledge creation in practical pursuits such as agriculture. I place American science in the context of Enlightenment debates about how human beings could create knowledge, or epistemology. This part of the dissertation involves a review of American exposure to such Enlightenment thinkers as John Locke, David Hume, and Thomas Reid. Then, I conduct several case studies of different kinds of science in America, including agriculture and natural history, and I analyze how Enlightenment epistemology informed the practice of these sciences. Finally, I consider how Enlightenment epistemology and American scientific practice shaped American discourse about political economy and political philosophy. In books and pamphlets that discussed political topics, American writers attempted to support their arguments by applying what they saw as proper epistemological methods. Through discussion of these aspects of science, I show that the Enlightenment continued to make its mark on American culture throughout the early nineteenth century.

Included in

History Commons

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