Date of Award

Spring 2003

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Jan V Golinski

Second Advisor

William Jeffrey Bolster


Between 1754 and 1812 the Boston Marine Society developed vocational scientific practices adapted from day-to-day work routines to expand the navigational knowledge of New England's coastlines. For this reason, the Marine Society's navigational work suggests important parallels with the history of colonial science in other areas during the late eighteenth century. Notwithstanding most other studies in the history of American science, the Boston Marine Society indicates that colonial Boston shipmasters were not dependent upon learned societies for their navigational research needs. Rather, they adapted their mutual aid society and developed methodologies to collect navigational observations, analyze them for reliability and accuracy, and in a few cases, publish their findings for the benefit of the community.

Given the close ties between seafaring, economic growth and political influence in a mercantile economy, the Marine Society's work in navigational research granted them social and political influence in Boston during the Early Republic. With this added influence, the Marine Society crafted themselves into Federalist "fathers of the maritime people" to legitimate their efforts to become one of the town's new post-revolutionary elites. Ultimately, the Marine Society lost its political influence as changes in navigational research, shifts in Boston and national politics, and new market centers for scientific information combined to weaken the Society's position in both the political and navigational research worlds.