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Tamara Plakins Thornton

Adviser, Phi Alpha Theta
office: 568 Park Hall
phone: (716) 645-8419


A.B., Harvard, 1978
Ph.D., Yale, 1987

Courses Regularly Taught

HIS 161: U.S. to 1877
HIS 216: Crime and Punishment in America
HIS 348: Learning, Science, and the Arts in America
HIS 361/62: American Cultural and Intellectual History I and II
HIS 429: American Landscape History
HIS 497: Honors Research Seminar
HIS 537: Readings in American Cultural History
HIS 551: Intellectual Life in America
HIS 576: American History Core I



Research Interests

American cultural and intellectual history; early republic and antebellum America; capitalist culture; American elites; history of reading and writing; the structure of intellectual life; history of American science.

Current Research

The quantitative sciences; the histories of capitalism, bureaucracy, and information in 19th-century America;  mathematical geography, terrestrial and celestial globes, and global capitalism in early America

Selected Publications

Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers: How a Nineteenth-Century Man of Business, Science, and the Sea Changed American Life (University of North Carolina Press, 2016)

“Capitalist Aesthetics: Americans Look at the London and Liverpool Docks,” in Capitalism Takes Command: The Social Transformation of Nineteenth-Century America, eds. Michael Zakim and Gary J. Kornblith (University of Chicago Press, 2012): 169-98.

“‘A Great Machine’ or a ‘Beast of Prey’: A Boston Corporation and Its Rural Debtors in an Age of Capitalist Transformation,” Journal of the Early Republic, 27.4 (Winter 2007): 567-97.

“Deviance, Dominance and the Construction of Handedness in Turn-of-the-Century Anglo-America,” in Moral Problems in American Life, Karen Halttunen and Lewis Perry, eds., (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999).

Handwriting in America: A Cultural History ( Yale University Press, 1996)

Cultivating Gentlemen: The Meaning of Country Life among the Boston Elite, 1785-1860 (Yale University Press, 1989)


  • 2017: Finalist, New England Society Book Award, New England Society in the City of New York
  • 2016: John Lyman Book Award, North American Society for Oceanic History
  • Summer 2008: Co-director of SHEAR-Mellon Summer Seminar in Early American History
  • 2008: Ralph D. Gray Article Prize, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR)
  • 2001: Milton Plesur Excellence in Teaching Award
  • 1993-94: National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship