Tamara Plakins Thornton: The Global Village, Eighteenth-Century Style

Last July, when wreckage from Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 washed ashore on Réunion, a typical response was something like “where?” The New York Times described the Indian Ocean island as “a French department about 4,000 miles from Europe,” adding that “if people had heard about it before, it was most likely because of bad publicity surrounding shark attacks or an epidemic of chikungunya.” So much for the world getting ever smaller. Over two centuries earlier, in the seaport town of Salem, Massachusetts, the island was well-known. Many was the Salem vessel that set sail for this isolated speck round the Cape of Good Hope. Continue Reading Tamara Plakins Thornton: The Global Village, Eighteenth-Century Style

Tamara Plakins Thornton: The Origins of Our “Numerical Neurosis”: Numbering Systems in American Life

April 15: yet another occasion to provide your social security number. It’s just one of many numbers we use to identify ourselves, along with those found on our driver’s licenses, passports, and military ID’s. Being a number instead of a name has become a cliché, but the use of such numbers goes beyond reducing personal identity to a set of numerals. It’s part of a larger world of numbering systems that order people and things alike. Continue Reading Tamara Plakins Thornton: The Origins of Our “Numerical Neurosis”: Numbering Systems in American Life