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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

American science and the pursuit of “useful knowledge” in the polite eighteenth century, 1750–1806
by Webster, Elizabeth E., Ph.D., University of Notre Dame, 2010, 317; 3441613
Abstract (Summary)

In this thesis, I will examine the promotion of science, or “useful knowledge,” in the polite eighteenth century. Historians of England and America have identified the concept of “politeness” as a key component for understanding eighteenth-century culture. At the same time, the term “useful knowledge” is also acknowledged to be a central concept for understanding the development of the early American scientific community. My dissertation looks at how these two ideas, “useful knowledge” and “polite character,” informed each other. I explore the way Americans promoted “useful knowledge” in the formative years between 1775 and 1806 by drawing on and rejecting certain aspects of the ideal of politeness. Particularly, I explore the writings of three central figures in the early years of the American Philosophical Society, David Rittenhouse, Charles Willson Peale, and Benjamin Rush, to see how they variously used the language and ideals of politeness to argue for the promotion of useful knowledge in America. Then I turn to a New Englander, Thomas Green Fessenden, who identified and caricatured a certain type of man of science and satirized the late-eighteenth-century culture of useful knowledge. He criticized what he saw as a certain culture of useful knowledge by turning to the polite ideals of benevolence and open conversation.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hamlin, Christopher
School: University of Notre Dame
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 72/03, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Science history
Keywords: Culture of politeness, Eighteenth century, Politics and science, Science, Useful knowledge
Publication Number: 3441613
ISBN: 978-1-124-46651-4
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