Communication and community : moving scientific knowledge in Britain and America, 1732-1782
Sivitz, Paul Andrew
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This dissertation explores the dissemination of knowledge, letter-writing, print culture, institutionalization of knowledge, and identity. In this work, the scientific knowledge itself plays a secondary role to how that knowledge was communicated within the scientific community and to the general public. While these exchanges have been well-documented, this work delves deeper into the volume and patterns of letter-writing among the participants, examining extant correspondence, as well as known, but missing, letters that communicated ideas across dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of miles without the benefit of modern technology. The scientific content of many letters was transformed into publications, some of which were intended for the scientific community. However, other works transmitted the accumulated knowledge to a broader audience, both in Britain and America. As literacy increased, access to knowledge followed, but the widespread lack of formal education among the reading population forced works to be written in English rather than Latin. This change was part of a growing movement within the scientific community that had begun in the seventeenth century, but was not completed until the nineteenth. The dissertation investigates this shift during the long eighteenth century from the perspective of the practitioners of science and the lingua franca each chose to accept or reject. The process of institutionalizing scientific knowledge in the American colonies met with a mixture of success and failure during the period. Allegiance to established institutions like The Royal Society has explanatory power, but, as I will argue, the epistolary web was an institution itself. It prevented more widespread formal institutional formation at the time, and, in some cases, it was more effective than traditional institutions in producing knowledge. This study also examines the persistent British identity of the scientific community in America during the mid-eighteenth century. Although events leading to the American Revolution marked a shift in political identity for some, many members of the scientific community continued to see themselves as British. Moreover, this study stresses the influence of politics, both situational and institutional, on the practice of science and the ability to communicate the results of those practices.