Patronage, Practice, and the Culture of American Science: Alexander Dallas Bache and the U. S. Coast Survey

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In this book, Hugh Richard Slotten explores the institutional and cultural history of science in the United States. The main focus of the book is an analysis of the activities of Alexander Dallas Bache—great grandson of Benjamin Franklin. Bache played a central role in the organization of a number of key scientific institutions, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The Smithsonian Institution, and the National Academy of Sciences. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Bache became the most important leader of the scientific community through his control of the United States Coast Survey, which he superintended from 1843 until his death in 1867. Under Bache's command, the Coast Survey became the central scientific institution in antebellum America. Using richly detailed archival records, Slotten pursues an analysis of Bache and the Coast Survey that illuminates important themes in the history of science in the United States, including the interrelationship among political culture, patterns of patronage, and the institutional practice of science in the United States.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...provides valuable insight concerning institutional developments and the professionalization of the scientific community in antebellum America. An important contribution to the history of American science, Slotten's volume also offers an intriguing overview of the cultural and intellectual landscape of the United States during a period unsually defined in terms of political and economic issues." History of Education Quarterly

"...this valuable, much-needed, and balanced study is the first extended look at Bache since Merle Odgers's 1947 biography. Slotten is to be highly commended for his significant contribution to the literature on American science and to the study of science as a cultural activity." James Rodger Fleming, Isis

"...densely argued, and excellent example of the context-oriented history of science....It concentrates on the interpenetration of science and society in the formation of the American scientific community just before and during the period of Alexander Dallas Bache's influence as superintendent of the United States Coast Survey....In both its arguments and its scholarship, the book is a success." Joseph Brent, The Journal of American History

"...Slotten has significantly extended our understanding of Bache as an institution-builder who played an important role in shaping nineteenth-century American science. Slotten also deserves praise for beginning the examination of the Coast Survey's cultural milieu." Carl-Henry Geschwind, Earth Sciences History

"Slotten's impressive research, including Coast and Geodetic Survey records and other letter collections of those most closely associated with it, gives his conclusions credibility....Slotten has done a skillful job in illuminating an important chapter in the history of American science, and he has left no room for doubt that science is 'embedded within local [rather than global] contexts'; that is to say, that the practice of science is essentially national." George Daniels, The Journal of Southern History

"Slotten's book is important both for the story conveyed and as an example of what is happening to what was once a minority deviant tradition—the effort by historians of the United States to fashion a history of science firmly related to national history and primarily based on non-cognitive aspects of the scientific life....well worth in content....Slotten's study is evidence that the Americanist tradition is alive and well." Nathan Reingold, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

"Nathan Reingold and other scholars who studied the formative years of the American scientific community suggested the exceptional influence of Bache, but this is the first account to demonstrate the dimensions of his patronage in detail and to link them to his cultural setting. Hugh Slotten's thematic and meticulously researched biography emphasizes the pragmatic and intellectual aspects of the scientific entrepreneur whose leadership shaped the U.S. Coast Survey into a powerful federal patron, with the largest annual budget for science of any agency in the antebellum period....Slotten makes his case that Bache took the world as it was and established a national and institutional base for north American Science that shaped its agenda and its culture for decades thereafter." Sall Kohlstedt, Technology and Culture

"More creatively and fully than anyone yet, Slotten has answered Rosenberg's call for an exploration of the 'rich and complex relationship between science and American social thought.' In the process he has taken the story of this historic interplay to a new level, leaving the reader almost breathless—and to some degree incredulous—over the possibilities....the most venturesome chronicle yet of the interaction between American science and the national culture." Edward H. Beardsley, Reviews in American History

"Hugh Richard Slotten's history of the U.S. Coast Survey under Alexander Dallas Bache is a welcome addition to the all too small literature on public science....this is a good and useful book. I hope it will inspire others to investigate the cultural history of public science, a large subject that challenges our literary and interpretive skills." American Historical Review

"Slotten makes a major contribution....Slotten's sophisticated analysis clearly shows the central role played by maritime requirements in shpaing nineteenth century American Science. Maritime historians will welcome this important contribution." Dean C. Allard, The American Neptune

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521433952
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2011
  • Pages: 244
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.29 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements; Preface; 1. Becoming a man of science; 2. Reforming American science; 3. Background to reform; 4. Mobilizing for government science; 5. Reforming the Coast Survey; 6. Providing patronage for American science; 7. Practising government science; Notes.

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