The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) congratulates alumnus Timothy Minella on the successful defense of his dissertation. A specialist in the history of science, he will receive his Ph. D. in August from the University of South Carolina. In 2010, he received the University of South Carolina’s prestigious Presidential Doctoral Fellowship, awarded to an outstanding applicant in any field of graduate study to support four years of study.

Former AHI Undergraduate Fellow Tim Minella

In the aftermath of his successful defense, Tim reached out to the AHI Charter Fellows Douglas Ambrose and Robert Paquette to thank them for their “guidance and support” over the years. “They went out of their way during my tenure at Hamilton to encourage my various interests in politics, philosophy, and history,” said Minella. “Early on in the process of applying to graduate school, they put me in touch with Mark Smith, Professor of History at the University of South Carolina. Professor Smith served on the committee that approved my dissertation. Throughout my time at USC, Professors Paquette and Ambrose have continued to give me valuable advice and encouragement. In addition, the AHI awarded me the generous Bakwin Fellowship that supported the research for my dissertation. I would not be in the position I am today without the AHI and Professors Paquette and Ambrose.”

Tim’s dissertation, “Knowing in America: The Enlightenment, Science, and the Early Republic,” analyzes practices of science and technology in the early U.S. as windows onto the American Enlightenment.  Although scholars have emphasized the important impact of Enlightenment thought on the American founding, the historiography tends to argue for the decreasing influence of the Enlightenment on American culture as the nineteenth century progressed. In addition, scholars tend to see a decline in American science after Benjamin Franklin as nineteenth-century Americans began to focus primarily on the practical problems of everyday life. Tim questions these interpretations by connecting scientific practice in the Early Republic with transatlantic Enlightenment thought, analyzing American conversations about knowledge creation in practical pursuits such as agriculture. “I place American science in the context of Enlightenment debates about how human beings could create knowledge, or epistemology,” Minella observed. “This part of the dissertation involves a review of American exposure to such Enlightenment thinkers as John Locke, David Hume, and Thomas Reid. Then, I conduct several case studies of different kinds of science in America, including agriculture and natural history, and I analyze how Enlightenment epistemology informed the practice of these sciences. Finally, I consider how Enlightenment epistemology and American scientific practice shaped American discourse about political economy and political philosophy. In books and pamphlets that discussed political topics, American writers attempted to support their arguments by applying what they saw as proper epistemological methods. Through discussion of these topics, I show that the Enlightenment continued to make its mark on American culture throughout the early nineteenth century.”

Tim graduated in 2009 from Hamilton College Phi Beta Kappa with a double major in physics and government.  AHI Charter Fellow Douglas Ambrose taught Mr. Minella as an undergraduate and encouraged his pursuit of an advanced degree in history.  “In his first two years as an undergraduate at Hamilton College,” Ambrose observed, “Tim Minella distinguished himself as an exceptional student. In his senior year, I was blessed to have Tim take my course on “The Founders and Their Progeny.”  It was only his second history course, but, I am proud to say, it helped him redirect his formidable intellectual gifts.  As he did throughout his career at Hamilton, Tim has impressed his professors and his fellow students at South Carolina with his probing intellect, his commitment to excellence, his rigorous work ethic, and his rare ability to make people reconsider their assumptions and interpretations.  What I once said of Tim’s performance in my seminar still rings true as he moves toward his Ph.D.:  ‘No one I have taught works as hard, thinks as deeply, reads as carefully, or writes as well as Tim Minella.’  All of us at the AHI are proud to have Tim return as this year’s Bakwin Fellow, and we are confident that Tim will soon be a distinguished and important scholar.”

“Tim Minella has pride of place as one of the very first undergraduates nurtured by the AHI,” Paquette observed.  “He stands out in my mind not only for his impressive intellectual gifts and range of interests but for his rock solid Middle-American character as well. Allow me to praise his parents:  They raised one responsible, hardworking, and honorable young man.”