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The Erie Canal Museum is proud to present How Clinton’s Ditch Made a Way for Amos Eaton’s “Blaze of Geological Zeal” by David Spanagel, historian and author of DeWitt Clinton and Amos Eaton: Geology and Power in Early New York (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014). After you purchase this lecture, you will be sent a private YouTube link to view the virtual lecture, which was recorded on Saturday, July 25.
The social payoff for developing American scientific capability, in Governor DeWitt Clinton’s understanding, would be the rendering of immense wealth from untapped land and natural resources. As was the case with Thomas Jefferson, Clinton’s wide reading and curiosity about nature were propelled by a desire for practical application of esoteric knowledge. Dramatic instances of the practical relevance of theoretical scientific knowledge emerged directly from the experience of excavating and constructing the Erie Canal. Ignorance about geographical and technological challenges provoked innovation by the New Yorkers. Natural history was invoked time and again as an essential tool to be used by the men Clinton employed to serve as America’s first civil engineers. Onto this scene strode Amos Eaton, a man whose scientific career blossomed late in life, but just in time to illuminate that slice of earth’s history which was newly exposed by the excavation of the Erie Canal.
David Spanagel received a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics and American Studies in 1983 from Oberlin College, his Master’s in Education in 1984 from the University of Rochester, and in 1996 he earned his doctorate in the history of science from Harvard University. David’s first book DeWitt Clinton and Amos Eaton: Geology and Power in Early New York (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), explores the broader cultural history of geological ideas and practices in early 19th century New York state. The construction of the Erie Canal provided the centerpiece for a radical transformation of American understanding of earth’s history, as well as an extraordinary practical opportunity for American geologists to do internationally respectable work in natural history while exploring systematic theoretical discussions of dynamic geological processes.