Everyday Nature: Knowledge of the Natural World in Colonial New York

Synopsis

In the modern world, the public looks to scientists and scholars for their expertise on issues ranging from the effectiveness of vaccines to the causes of natural disasters. But for early Americans, whose relationship to nature was more intimate and perilous than our own, personal experience, political allegiances, and faith in God took precedence over the experiments of the learned.

In Everyday Nature, Sara Gronim shows how scientific advances were received in the early modern world, from the time Europeans settled in America until just before the American Revolution. Settlers approached a wide range of innovations, such as smallpox inoculation, maps and surveys, Copernican cosmology, and Ben Franklin's experiments with electricity, with great skepticism. New Yorkers in particular were distrustful because of the chronic political and religious factionalism in the colony. Those discoveries that could be easily reconciled with existing beliefs about healing the sick, agricultural practices, and the revolution of the planets were more readily embraced.

A fascinating portrait of colonial life, this book traces a series of innovations that were disseminated throughout the Atlantic world during the Enlightenment, and shows how colonial New Yorkers integrated new knowledge into their lives.