Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize Awarded
Wednesday, November 1, 2017 9:00AM
Tamara Plakins Thornton recognized for her insightful biography Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers
The MHS has announced that the Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize will go to Tamara Plakins Thornton for her book Nathaniel Bowditch & the Power of Numbers: How a 19th-Century Man of Business, Science, & the Sea Changed American Life, published in 2016 by The University of North Carolina Press. The Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize is given to the best nonfiction work on the history of Massachusetts published during the preceding year. Thornton will receive the award at an event at the Society on January 25, 2018.
In Nathaniel Bowditch & the Power of Numbers, Thornton achieves more than a biography of this compelling individual, a mathematician, navigator, astronomer, and businessman whom Thomas Jefferson called a "meteor in the hemisphere": she locates the origins of bureaucratic practices that have transformed American life. Bowditch is perhaps best known for his New American Practical Navigator, still in print today. Yet in quantitative science and mathematical calculations, Bowditch found a precision and certainty that gripped his imagination, and he wielded these tools to reform the operations of elite financial, literary, and scientific institutions, as well as Harvard University. We live with his legacy, as Thornton masterfully reveals, as we navigate the impersonal corporate milieu of the present day.
The Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize selection committee received submissions that interpret the history of Massachusetts through an exciting range of subjects, from colonial history to political biography to 20th-century environmentalism. The submissions came from nearly a dozen academic, trade, and specialty publishers. "Rev. Peter Gomes was himself an accomplished scholar of early America, its personalities, and its institutions," commented MHS Director of Research Katheryn P. Viens. She continued, "Meticulously researched and beautifully written, Tamara Plakins Thornton's account of the enduring contributions of Nathaniel Bowditch is a most worthy recipient of the Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize."
Tamara Plakins Thornton is Professor of History at the State University of New York at Buffalo. She is also the author of Cultivating Gentlemen: The Meaning of Country Life among the Boston Elite, 1785-1860, published by Yale University Press in 1989, as well as Handwriting in America: A Cultural History, published by Yale University Press in 1996. Nathaniel Bowditch & the Power of Numbers received the 2016 John Lyman Book Award of the North American Society for Oceanic History and was a 2017 finalist for the New England Society Book Award of the New England Society in the City of New York
About the Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize
The Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize, for the best nonfiction work on the history of Massachusetts published during the preceding year, honors the memory of a respected Harvard scholar and beloved Fellow of the MHS. Peter J. Gomes (1942-2011) was elected to the MHS in 1976 and joined the Board of Overseers in 2010. He was Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard University.