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Bacon to Bartram


Frontispiece to Instauratio Magna (The Great Instauration) by Francis Bacon (London, 1620). This item is reproduced by permission of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

A Conference sponsored by the Omohundro Institute
of Early American History and Culture

American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY 10024-5192


Between 1500 and 1800, Europeans’ encounters with the western hemisphere created dynamic sites for testing and extending observations of the natural world. At the same time, ideas about a dominant, “scientific” view of nature were being defined—and radically redefined. With contact among Europeans, native Americans, and Africans, the New World generated data, commodities, and ideological constructs that informed ideas about nature.

Increasingly, the order of nature was understood as a divine plan that offered a way of reconciling God with the natural world. By the eighteenth century, principles of inductive reasoning, narration, and classification permeated colonial thinking and transformed perspectives on the relation of God to humans. Yet, embedded in the practices of collecting, systematizing, and circulating American species was an array of social, economic, and institutional agendas. Presented as the template of knowledge through which the world was understood, natural science had a dramatic impact on literature, the arts, and religion, even as these fields offered significant criticism of science.

If natural science was becoming, over this period of time, the medium through which earthly life and divine order were comprehended, what did American experiences contribute to scientific cognition? In what ways did the circumstances and diverse peoples in early America affect ways of knowing the natural world? Scholars have long studied the role of science in early modern Europe and its consequences for the transformation of America. Emerging scholarship by early Americanists now opens new avenues of inquiry into natural science’s significance for the Old World and the New.

The program committee for this conference consists of Joyce E. Chaplin (Harvard University), Laura N. Rigal (University of Iowa), and Fredrika J. Teute (Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture).

The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture was founded as the Institute of Early American History and Culture in 1943 by the College of William and Mary and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to foster study, research, and publications bearing on American history approximately to the year 1815. Still jointly sponsored by the College and Colonial Williamsburg, the Institute was renamed in 1996, in recognition of a generous endowment pledged by Mr. and Mrs. Malvern H. Omohundro, Jr. The Institute publishes the William and Mary Quarterly, books in its field of interest, and a e-newsletter, organizes and supports a variety of conferences, seminars, and colloquia, and annually offers a two-year NEH postdoctoral fellowship and a one-year Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral research fellowship.

The Institute wishes to express its gratitude to Richard Gilder, a member of its Executive Board, and James G. Basker, president of the Gilder Education Group, for arranging to have this conference held at the American Museum of Natural History and for hosting the reception on Saturday evening.