Monday, January 5, 2015

The Americans: The Colonial Experience. Book 2. Viewpoints and Institutions. Part 9: The Limits of American Science

Chapter 38.  Popular Science:  Astronomy for Everyone
  • popular science
    • greatest works of science might be understood by every body
    • ideal of self-made scientist
  • physical sciences
    • developed from technical foundation of professional learning of the past
    • American ideals led them to exaggeration and confusions
  • John Winthrop III (1714-1779)
    • accomplished astronomer
    • work not strikingly original
    • brilliant teacher but added little of his own
    • organized expedition to Newfoundland in 1761 for observation of the transit of Mars
      • first American astronomy expedition
      • first scientific expedition sponsored by college (Harvard)
  • David Rittenhouse (1732-1796)
    • seemed the American ideal of the undifferentiated man
    • with Franklin, offered by follow colonists as a champion against the greats of Europe
    • his career emphasized the narrowness of American science
    • leading surveyor of his day
      • led to justification of calling him Great American Astronomer
      • drew boundaries of more than half the 13 colonies
    • 1769 transit of Venus provided opportunity to establish respect for American science
      • passed out from exhaustion at zero hour
      • lucky guess produced from final figure close to actual distance from earth to sun
    • Orrery
      • working model of the solar system
      • principal claim to fame of Rittenhouse
      • welcomed as evidence that New World could compete with progress of Old

Chapter 39.  Naive Insights and Ingenious Devices:  Electricity
  • Great genius was needed to exploit naivete in a subject as cumulative as physics
  • Ben Franklin
    • meager knowledge in physical sciences
    • triumph of naivete over learning
    • not at home in Newton's mathematical world
    • amateur and non-academic frame of mind to his advantage
  • Electricity
    • where Franklin made his only physical discovery of lasting importance
    • had least history of all sciences in 17th and 18th centuries
    • Franklin's epochal assumption that all electricity was a single fluid.
      • kite experiment was not a basic theoretical discovery
      • clever practical expression of a single fluid theory
  • Lightning rod
    • description in Poor Richard's Almanac in 1713
    • quickly took hold in America
    • delays
      • religious prejudice
      • scientific conservatism

Chapter 40.  Backwoods Farming
  • English agricultural revolution
    • enclosure
      • fencing in of old common lands and pastures
      • encouraged more capitalistic and efficient methods
    • Jethro Tull
    • peasants and small farmers slow to change
    • had well taken hold by American
    •  revolution
  • Agriculture in colonial America
    •  age of stagnation
    • few improvements
      • axe
      • rifle
    • farmers generally followed a rule of backwoods conservatism
      • wanted "labor-saving" devices
      • wasteful use of land
      • widespread carelessness
    • European travelers unanimous on American backwardness
    • abundance of fish and game
      • improved American diet
      • no incentive to better husbandry
      • many middle- and lower-class settlers unskilled hunters
    • arriving colonists used any methods that would produce quick results
      • Indian's primitive planting methods passed on
      • corn exhausted the soil
    • recurring colonial wars
      • made planning difficult
      • increased scarcity of manpower
      • kept American farmer conservative
    • range of farming problems
      • heavy winters of northern colonies
      • heat of Carolinas
      • far wider divergence than found in England
      • as many different kinds of bad husbandry as there were bad soils, crops, and climates
      • each region had to learn its own lessons
      • concerted effort to improve agriculture was lacking
      • novelty of condition made English texts useless
    • Progress came after Revolutionary War

Related posts:
The Americans: The Colonial Experience by Daniel Boorstin,  Book 1.  The Vision and the Reality Part 1.  A City Upon a Hill:  The Puritans of Massachusetts.  (12/8/2014)
The Americans: The Colonial Experience. Part 2. The Inward Plantation: The Quakers of Pennsylvania.  (12/10/2014)
The Americans: The Colonial Experience. Part 3. Victims of Philanthropy: The Settlers of Georgia.  (12/13/2014)
The Americans;  The Colonial Experience, Part 4.  Transplanters:  The Virginians.  (12/14/2014)
The Americans: The Colonial Experience. Book 2. Viewpoints and Institutions. Part 5: An American Frame of Mind.  (12/17/2014)
The Americans: The Colonial Experience. Book 2. Viewpoints and Institutions. Part 6: Educating the Community
The Americans: The Colonial Experience. Book 2. Viewpoints and Institutions. Part 7: The Learned Lose Their Monopolies.  (12/24/2014)
The Americans: The Colonial Experience. Book 2. Viewpoints and Institutions. Part 8: New World Medicine.  (12/31/2014)

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