Carry on Mr. Bowditch Study Guide

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Carry on Mr. Bowditch By Jean Lee Latham

At the start of "Carry On, Mr. Bowditch", young Nat Bowditch, who loves school more than anything, loves mathematics even more. His dream is to someday attend Cambridge, which is Massachusetts' Harvard University - but unfortunate economic circumstances force him to quit school and start working early. He ends up becoming the indentured servant of a ship's chandler (a retail dealer in special supplies or equipment for ships.) Determined to further his education, Nat continues to study mathematics in his free time after work each evening. Eventually, he begins to master even advanced mathematics, which will form the foundation of his life's work.

When Bowditch's indenture is complete, he is finally afforded the chance to go out to sea, where he learns that the sources of navigational information available at the time are riddled with numerous and very dangerous mistakes and errors. He decides that he will compile a new book of navigational data. (The book he ends up creating, the American Practical Navigator, is still in use today.)

Under several different captains, Nat learns the ropes and gets his sea legs. He eventually begins to invent and develop new ways of calculating latitude and longitude, dramatically increasing the accuracy of the calculations that navigators use to find the locations of their ships. He also teaches math to the crew, a time-consuming task -- but those who did learn thought of themselves as smart and important for having learned. When he sees the difference that it makes in the crew, Nat begins to help others, including children, by teaching them simple things like how to find the north star with a sextant.

Eventually, Nat Bowditch becomes a ship's captain, and receives an honorary degree from his dream school, Harvard, for his pioneering work in navigational mathematics.

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