Science in Early America: Print Culture and the Sciences of Territoriality


This collaboration promotes a broad reconsideration of science in the early American republic. We argue that scientific activity permeated early American society, but appeared in different forms and in different places than most historical literature has identified. Mathematical tables and astronomical charts in almanacs, snippets on chemistry and climate in agricultural journals, illustrations of mineral resources in geological maps, accessibly-written resource analysis in consulting reports, and articles in local newspapers arguing about causes of phenomena from the mundane to the surprising: all express a pervasive commitment to scientific ideas, questions, and investigation. These diverse genres of print, moreover, evidence a society that strongly valued studies of the natural world for their connections with important contemporary human endeavors. In the early republic scientific questions were deeply interwoven with commerce, with territorial claims, and with moral order: Early Americans mapped the world conceptually in order to claim it for some people and not for others. We identify a constellation of interests that we call the ‘‘sciences of territoriality’’ centered on the description and appropriation of natural resources. Our investigation of print culture both emphasizes an often-ignored facet of the early American republic-that scientific thinking was as ubiquitous and as taken for granted as religion or politics-and reveals particular, often unrecognized, characteristics of science in the early United States. The commercial and moral forces underlying the ‘‘sciences of territoriality,’’ combined with widespread literacy and an active broad-based print culture, deeply shaped early epistemological hierarchies in the United States.