On 25-26 January, several members of the Longitude Project team were in California for our conference at the Huntington Library, Oceanic Enterprise: Location, Longitude, and Maritime Cultures 1770-1830. It was an extremely enjoyable and interesting meeting. I attempted to summarise the papers before the final discussion, so here are some thoughts about what we heard.
The conference largely focused on the elite scientific voyages of exploration of the late 18th and early 19th centuries as “the Enlightenment symbol of technological and scientific modernity” (a phrase borrowed from Nick Dew’s opening paper). In characterising these expeditions, two themes came up repeatedly:
- They were hybrid enterprises, with diverse, interdisciplinary and inter-institutional aims
- There was a pluralistic approach to navigation. While contingent on access to particular instruments, texts, skills or locations, any and all methods were used in complementary ways.
The use of maritime voyages for a combination of goals, including a variety of scientific projects as well as trade or military objectives, clearly had a longer history than that tackled in the conference. Nick Dew illustrated this by outlining some late 17th and early 18th-century French expeditions, and I was reminded of the fact that the Royal Society and other national academies made it their business from the outset to instruct those travelling to collect and bring back all kinds of information.
Papers by John Gascoigne, Simon Werrett, Ilya Vinkovetsky and Neil Safier were useful to the project team in providing different national contexts for these themes: French, Russian and Spanish. It was clear that the activities and perceived successes of one nation would encourage another to take action – with Cook’s voyages being a spur, for example, to the Russian expeditions – but another recurring theme was international cooperation, or even a cosmopolitan approach to sharing knowledge and resources. Russian cadets trained with the Royal Navy, Baltic Germans in Russia encouraged Hanoverians to communicate with English diplomats, French writings inspired the projects of the British Astronomer Royal, and so on.
Together, all the papers complicated the well-known form of the longitude story, adding wider geographical, social and temporal frames. In addition, several papers gave attention to the complexity of creating and using navigational tools, particularly the apparently self-contained timekeeper. David Miller reminded us that the timekeeping method relied on wide networks, including the use of astronomical observations to find local time at sea and land-based observatories for rating and provision of reference time. Eoin Phillips emphaised the problems surrounding the early use of timekeepers, which stopped and broke and were “more trouble than any real use”.
Throughout the conference, there was an emphasis on the need to recover details of practice and experience at sea. Richard Dunn used the correspondence of William Gooch to good effect in capturing the novelities, frailties and inexactitude of what aimed to be the production of precise knowledge. Joyce Chaplain provided a picture of how many people on board ships were there unwillingly, even though attitudes to the reliability of information provided by captives changed dramatically around the start of our period, reflecting moral debates about slavery and new approaches to Euro-Indian diplomacy in the Americas.
Another theme emerging from the papers was the way in which context and experience changes the meaning of objects. Adriana Craciun showed this through the relics of the La Perouse voyage, researched in the 21st century through the prism of 19th-century attitudes to the 18th. Phillips discussed the changing meaning of chronometers for makers, different classes on board ship and for historians. Vinkovetsky showed how views of eastern Russia depended on whether western Russians reached it by land or sea. Safier discussed how precision was laid on top of old and imaginary views of the Torrid Zone.
In his paper, Miller had, somewhat playfully, identified the ‘hardware’ (instruments etc), ‘software’ (books, charts, logs etc) and ‘wetware’ (people) that were necessary to the deployment of navigational regimes. It was clear in discussion that these tags and concepts could be moved around. Were books not hardware? Can people be instruments? Might change of perspective act as ‘software’ that reprogrammes understandings of ‘hardware’? There was plenty of food for thought, with important questions about practice, negotiation, trust and control to be explored, and the extent to which the period under discussion was one of change or continuity, and whether the scientific voyages can be characterised as a project of precision or (/and) one of opportunism.
Food was obviously on the mind of one participant, which is unsurprising given the wonderful hospitality extended by the Huntington. Simon Werrett penned his “Huntington Oceanic Enterprise conference dinner menu” on the flight home:
Harris on toast, with dip, or
Beef Bougainville or Lamb Pérouse
Chocolate log (& line) with Michael Topping
Coastal sorbet (Cook’s speciality) or Dava Sorbet (may leave slightly bitter taste)
Cheese board of longitude
To drink: (lunar) table wine
The eagle-eyed among you might have spotted on the up-coming events list on the front page of this site that most of the Longitude Project team will be in California this week for a conference we have co-organised with The Huntington Library.
The programme can be found here [PDF], and the title is Oceanic Enterprise: Location, Longitude and Maritime Cultures 1770-1830. It aims to place the work of the Board of Longitude in navigation and voyages of scientific exploration in wider and international context. Papers will consider the methods, techniques, and interests of oceanic travel and position-finding in a period of economic, political, and social change. They will offer comparative and detailed analyses of other cultures’ projects in maritime travel and its reliability in the period.
There will be two papers coming from our side of the project. Eoin Phillips will speak on The Economization of Time in the Pacific:
Traditional histories of marine timekeepers in the Pacific, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, have tended towards implying that their performance was prescribed before going on ship. This talk will seek to situate and trace the performance of British state-sponsored timekeepers within a complex and developing system of maintenance and repair, which acted as a sort of continual ‘extended-manufacture’ beyond the artisinal workshop. Accordingly, this talk will suggest that the timekeeper’s product – time – served as much as a representation of the means of production onboard a ship, as it did an external signifier of a ship’s relationship with the metropole. The talk will demonstrate that the value of this product was a real concern for the Board of Longitude and Admiralty in its dealings with Voyages of Discovery, Royal Navy ships and East India Company vessels in what was a lengthy and drawn-out development of the marine timekeeper. Furthermore, it will highlight the related and integrated ensemble of instruments and forms of representation (sextants, log books etc.) that were mobilised and developed alongside this manufacture of time and timekeepers in the Pacific.
Richard and I are offering a joint paper on Lists, Letters, and Longitude: Expeditionary Astronomy in Theory and Practice:
This paper contrasts the ideal and the reality of undertaking scientific work on 18th-century voyages of exploration. As Astronomer Royal and a Commissioner of Longitude, Nevil Maskelyne controlled the activities of astronomers sent on British voyages of exploration, playing a more significant role than has been revealed in existing literature on such voyages. Maskelyne’s own experience of astronomy in the field and on board ship ensured that he was aware of potential problems and ambiguities but, nevertheless, in the process of drawing up instructions, issuing lists of instruments to be taken on board and selecting observers, much of this was smoothed over. The day-to-day experiences of one expeditionary astronomer, William Gooch, therefore mark a distinct contrast with the way in which his role had been defined and described. The problems of controlling such activity at a distance are revealed clearly by the effort Maskelyne was required to exert in order to bring to a close the sadly short chapter of Gooch’s life.
We look forward to putting the work of our project alongside papers that look at Russian, French, colonial, Pacific and other contexts. Many thanks to the Huntington for their support in enabling this conference.
I started 2013 with an academic bang attending the annual conference of the British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies for three days last week. The theme was ‘Credit, Money and the Market’ which attendees used to discuss a wide range of subjects relating to financial and intellectual concerns in the period.
I took the opportunity to create a panel with friends who work in medical and literary history in which we looked at how credit and credibility were created and assessed through ephemera in our relative areas. I considered Hogarth’s image of the longitude lunatic in A Rake’s Progress (predictably) in the context of the print and text ephemera that discussed the longitude problem as a ridiculous or malicious scientific project, and/or as the route to and result of madness. I used this to think about how our man John Harrison had such trouble establishing his own credibility and getting the Board of Longitude to give credit to his ideas.
It was a rich and stimulating conference. I heard about cultural knowledge production in botanical and zoological texts, and satirical attitudes to burning mirrors. I discovered what eighteenth-century gentlemen carried in their pockets, how the poet Kit Smart was patronised by the Delaval family, and how late seventeenth-century theatre began creating a language of political sensibility. I saw caricatures of the 1797 invasion crisis, a fascinating Goya painting of The Junta of the Philippines, and contemporary video art inspired by eighteenth-century financial crisis.
But what really struck me, like many, was Robert Hume’s thought-provoking keynote on ‘The Value of Money’ in which he argued convincingly that we need to take better account of the cost of cultural products and activities in our period. Money comparisons across time are notoriously problematic, but Hume made a good case for multiplying eighteenth-century prices by two or three hundred for present day comparison. This gave me pause. Many of the pamphlets that proposed longitude schemes, on which my PhD is based, don’t include the price on their title page, but of those that do the cheapest seem to have cost 6d. This sounds nice and cheap, but on Hume’s scale equates to at least £12 today. I baulk at paying £6 or £7 for a paperback let alone a slim pamphlet on a niche and heavily satirised subject. I am no longer surprised that such pamphlets crop up in so few libraries, I am frankly surprised that any one bought them at all!
Last week I was lucky enough to be in America again, to attend a conference at the University of Colorado at Boulder. This was hosted by the Centre for British and Irish Studies and was on ‘The Rake’s Progress.’ Readers of this blog who’ve seen my posts in the past will know that this was something I couldn’t miss! You can read my tweets from the conference here.
The conference was a particularly stimulating experience. Conceived as an interdisciplinary event, it considered not only the Hogarth prints and paintings on which I work, but also the opera by Stravinsky along with the libretto by Auden and Kallman, and the famous stage sets by David Hockney that go with this. I blogged last year about a production of the opera (without the Hockney sets) that Alexi, Sophie and I attended in Cambridge. I was struck then by ways in which the opera picks up on key themes in the Hogarth prints which are also key to the longitude story.
Applying to speak at this conference gave me the opportunity to think about Hockney’s stage sets for the opera, in which he built fascinatingly on Hogarth’s prints. Every detail of the sets draws on one or other print, and builds a whole world out of Hogarth’s cross-hatched aesthetic. They are truly wonderful sets, the designs for which you can see here. I was immediately struck by how Hockney’s Bedlam prioritises graffiti on the wall, as practiced by my cherished longitude lunatic, so was thrilled to find that longitude was, in fact, his inspiration. Hockney told an interviewer in the 1980s, ‘Where do you think I got the idea to use graffiti in the Bedlam scene? From Hogarth … of course. I suddenly realised that in his Bedlam drawing, one of the madmen is scribbling a map of the world on the wall. Then I thought about what the walls of Bedlam must have been covered with.’ Gold dust for me! In researching for the talk, I have been thinking more and more about subsequent responses to Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress and going back to my thoughts on Grayson Perry’s tapestry series about which I posted here in July. I’ve realised that these are the makings of my PhD conclusion.
I therefore found it particularly helpful to hear the range of discussions at the conference, thinking about how Stravinsky, Auden, Kallman and Hockney picked up on Hogarth’s ideas. We were lucky enough to have the well-known art critic and personal friend of Hockney, Lawrence Weschler, give the keynote lecture, where he argued that the extreme one-point perspective that Hockney creates in his version of Bedlam was what he saw as mad in artistic representation. Showing us the range of Hockney’s subsequent paintings, photo montages and film pieces (many of which also inspired my turn to Hockney when the RA displayed them earlier this year) he argued that the rest of Hockney’s career has been the attempt to escape from this perspectival ‘vice.’ This all seemed to mesh nicely with my thoughts on longitude and latitude as enmeshing grids in eighteenth-century satire.
Matthew Paul Carlson spoke about Auden and Kallman’s libretto, arguing that they create a narrative in which Tom Rakewell is lost in space and time. Nick Shadow, the devil, removes him from the flow of time when in the brothel, and it is only repetitive acts that keep him conscious of time and orientate him in later scenes. This struck me as very apt for the longitude problem too, and the repetitions of trials and calculations central to finding a solution. Abigail Zitin particularly appealed to me with her consideration of Hogarth’s treatise on art theory, The Analysis of Beauty. She argued for the important multiple meanings of the word wanton in Hogarth’s description of the line of beauty as a ‘wanton line.’ This is not just wanton in the impure sense, but also in the wilful, wandering and wishful sense: the pleasure in being led without knowing exactly to where. Again, this struck me as much like the process experienced by the Board of Longitude, although they might not always have enjoyed it.
It also nicely characterises my own ‘progress’ in researching Hogarth and Hockney for the PhD, I might not always be sure where I’m going, but I’m certainly enjoying getting there!
More from this week’s conference in Rio, where yesterday’s keynote was by Juan Pimentel. The talk was about Spanish expeditions of the eighteenth century, including Alessandro Malaspina’s politico-scientific voyage of 1789-94.
Malaspina’s voyage was very well equipped for a range of purposes, including navigation and surveying: they had timekeepers by Ferdinand Berthoud and John Arnold, and other precision instruments by Dollond, Ramsden and others. Talking about one of the Arnold timekeepers, Juan quoted a short passage from Malaspina’s diary that really struck me:
October, 29th. We set off at 9 in the morning. Watch number 105 was hanging from my shoulder and held very close to my chest, so that there was no space for it to move, but it was rather cushioned by my own body.
As Juan pointed out, this is a neat example of the body being sacrificed in the service of an instrument. Some hands are more important than others, it would seem!
Down here in Rio for the XXXI Symposium of the Scientific Instrument Commission, there’s quite a bit to interest those with a longitude bent.
Yesterday, we heard an excellent keynote paper from Maria Portuondo about attempts in the 1570s and 1580s to establish the exact geographical positions of places around the Spanish Empire to improve the confidential maps and charts held at the Council of the Indies. The scheme, under the guidance of Juan Lopez de Vasco, first Royal Cosmographer to the Council of the Indies, relied on the use of local Spanish officials, who were generally not trained in mathematics or observation. It was necessary therefore to devise a simple, standardised procedure for operatives to follow.
What Velasco came up with was a set of instructions for making and using a device, called the ‘instrument of the Indies’, with which to record the beginning and end of lunar eclipses, from which longitude could be determined. This is a one-third scale model that Maria has made:
Essentially it’s a moon dial that can be made very easily on the spot. Once it was correctly aligned, the observer simply marked on the semicircular line the place of the moon’s shadow when the eclipse began and again when it ended. They were then to copy the marks onto paper and send these results (along with information about the length of the Sun’s shadow at noon) back to Spain to be analysed and the longitude determined.
As far as keeping strategically important cartographic information secret was concerned, this was ideal, since it prevented useful knowledge being produced, and possibly leaked, locally. The downside was that the calculations needed to deduce longitudes from the marked papers were extremely complex. There were also, of course, many sources of error, but, as Maria pointed out, there had to be some compromise between precision and simplicity in this ambitious attempt at co-ordinated mapping on a worldwide scale.
For the bold historical explorer, there’s more detail in Maria’s paper, ‘Lunar eclipses, longitude and the New World’, Journal of the History of Astronomy, 40 (2009), pp. 249-276.
Our friends from Leeds Museums & Galleries have been in touch again recently. Apparently the clock made in 1727 by John Harrison that is now in their collections will be on display in a new exhibition at Fairfax House in York from 5 October.
Find out more on their Secret Lives of Objects blog – or just go to York, I guess.
And as luck would have it, Rory McEvoy will be speaking at Fairfax House on 18 October on ‘Two Yorkshiremen and a Cumbrian’.
During my time helping to organising the seminar series “Things: Material Cultures of the Long Eighteenth Century” over the course of the last academic year, the idea of the ‘object’ as an important historical source has started to affect my own PhD work.
Recently I’ve been attempting to find out more about the Board of Longitude’s sponsorship of gravity research in various voyages of discovery in the post Napoleonic period. The instrument of choice for this research was the pendulum, as the frequency of its period would vary with the local strength of gravity. The pendulum as a scientific instrument underwent a transformation in this period. From a trusted source of time intervals in astronomical regulator clocks, as it ticked and tocked in the centre of observatories across the globe, into a more problematic instrument when used to measure gravity, encountering problems of air resistance and suspension. My research traces this adaption of the pendulum as they were, sometimes literally, removed from clock cases and swung to measure gravity variation, instead of constant time, and estimate the shape and density of the earth.
One particular instrument, a Shelton Regulator Clock, has jumped out as an object that effectively demonstrates this narrative of increasing complexity for the pendulum as a scientific instrument. There are five Shelton Regulator Clocks that are present in this period and they’ve all claimed to be the one taken with Cook to observe the 1769 transit of Venus. This confusion between where the five clocks were at different times and for different events is in part a result of an absence of proper cataloguing of instruments owned by the Royal Society and the Board of Longitude to which the clocks belonged. This problem is compounded by the fact that the clocks were stored in the 1780s in a warehouse shared by the two institutions and it would have been easy to confuse them with each other as they’re all similar in appearance. This confusion surround the clocks as a result of their similarity also reminds us that a key element of the 1769 transit of Venus was a lesson learnt from the 1761 expeditions: it was good scientific practise to ensure that your instruments were as identical as possible to ensure the results, taken from different locations across the globe, would be as comparable as possible.
Cook took with him one clock to observe the 1769 transit of Venus, on his subsequent voyages in 1772 and 1776 he took two: a clock from the Royal society and the one owned by the Board of Longitude. The clock that he took with him in 1768 had been previously used by Nevil Maskelyne to preform gravity experiments and observe the 1761 transit of Venus in St. Helena. This set of gravity experiment was the forerunner to many more experiments resulting in a peak of gravity research in the 1820s and 1830s. Maskelyne report from December 12th 1771 shows the pioneering nature of this early work – “when compared with the going of the Clock at Greenwich, will shew the difference of gravity from that at Greenwich, which is a very curious point in experimental Philosophy.”
After traveling with Cook the clock was back with Maskelyne, now Astronomer Royal, by 1774 and he took it to Perthshire in order to conduct an experiment to “weight the earth” by measuring the deflection of a plumb line caused by a nearby mountain mass. George Biddle Airy then took the clock and another from the Royal Society with him to measure the density of the earth at the top and bottom of a mine shaft in Cornwall with William Whewell in the spring of 1826. The next account of the whereabouts of this clock is in an inventory of the instruments owned by the Royal Society conducted between 1827 and 1834. The inventory includes three Shelton clocks listed as items 33, 34 and 35 that came with a note from Mr Simms, who conducted the survey, saying “The two last employed at the transit of Venus… and Professors Airy and Whewell.” This note tells us that the last two were used by Airy in Cornwall and that Mr Simm’s might not be confident of which, but one of these two clocks, was also the one that had gone with Cook to the Pacific in 1768.
The use of this clock for pioneering gravity experiments by Maskelyne, then traveling with Cook to observe the transit of Venus and finally being used by Airy in Cornwall is an insightful way to map the development of experimental work done with pendulums in both astronomy and gravitational research from the 1760s to the 1820s. The different uses that this clock has had are a fantastic demonstration of the core narrative that I’m attempting to tell as one part of my PhD. This object serves to remind us that it is not only written material that makes history tick, sometimes its clocks.
Becky, Katy and I had a wonderful time at the Three Societies meeting in Philadelphia, which just concluded. Many thanks to Robert Hicks of the Mütter Museum for doing a superior job as our chair and commentator, and to all of the delegates who attended our session and provided useful questions and comments!
I spoke about the reality of trying to transport, use, maintain and repair all types of early modern instruments including marine timekeepers at sea and on expeditions – in changeable and sometimes harsh environments and often far from specialist repairers. While most of the published and otherwise propagated textual and visual representations of instruments depicted them as idealised and unproblematic precision technologies which would work ‘out of the box’, they were not only far from precise in the modern sense of the word and far from easy to operate but were also often disordered or broken by movement and by changes in conditions such as temperature and humidity.
Their usage at sea and abroad — whether in astronomy, natural philosophy, navigation or surveying — was often further hindered by complications including movement, poor weather and visibility, and difficult and uncharted terrain. As a result, instrument users almost constantly had to adjust, to adapt or to overhaul their equipment in order to try to overcome these obstacles – hence the ‘make do and mend‘ culture. The stories of their constant negotiations between technology and environment often come out in private correspondence and unpublished records rather than in the broader public dialogue.
Such issues also popped up in other instrument-oriented talks during the conference. For example, they were central to discussions of the operation, judgement and communication of the diverse technologies described in each talk in the session ‘Instruments and Measurement’ – a unifier which was fleshed out more during the concluding questions. Yuto Ishibashi of Imperial College London spoke about ‘The Accuracy of the Timeball and the Development of Electrical Timekeeping in Liverpool, 1850-1870′, Daniel Mitchell of the University of Hong Kong discussed ‘Controlling the Atmosphere: Discipline and Protocol in the Installation of the Kew Divided-Ring Electrometer’, and Kjell Ericson of Princeton University concluded with ‘The Universe of Light in the Kingdom of the Pearl: The Gem Test and the Spread of Machine-Mediated Appraisal, c. 1920-1935′.
As we can see through such research, the roles played by damage, flux and other complications in transporting and using technology were of course not restricted to the early modern period or to the European experience. Even today, while we expect so many technologies to work the minute we plug them in, it is still common for scientists and techies and the like to have to fiddle with their tools and toys in order to operate or to optimise them in different environments. Our Principal Investigator Simon Schaffer recently cited, most aptly, the corrective ‘spectacles’ which had to be added to the flawed mirror of the Hubble Space Telescope in December 1993. Below, you can see a comparison of images of M100 taken before and after the HST optics were corrected.
An example from the earlier twentieth century which has always stuck with me, is when a vital switch broke on the control panel of the first lunar lander on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission of 1969 – in fact the switch which would power up the engine so that the astronauts could return home! Not to worry, however, as Buzz Aldrin was able to replace the missing toggle with an ink pen, and he and Neil Armstrong started the engine and went on their merry way.
Images: Greenwich timeball: Royal Museums Greenwich; Hubble and Apollo 11 photos: NASA.
Three members of the team (me, Katy and Alexi) are headed for the Three Societies meeting in Philadelphia to present papers at a session called ‘Defining the Instrumental: Navigation, Longitude and Science at Sea in the 18th Century’. Robert D. Hicks, of Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum, has kindly agreed to act as commentator and chair. The full programme of the meeting (which is a quadrennial joint meeting of the History of Science Society, British Society for the History of Science and Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science) can be found here.
This is the session’s abstract:
During the 18th century, there were a number of developments which contributed to the improvement of navigation and to the conduct of science at sea and abroad. New instruments and the search for longitude at sea held promise for improving the safety and speed of ocean voyages, although many mariners continued to rely upon traditional tools and methods. Individuals and institutions also increasingly took to the sea to conduct waterborne and foreign observations and experiments, some of which involved multinational cooperation. This session considers the ways in which science, navigation and the use of technology, particularly precision instruments, were perceived and undertaken at sea in this period.
The speakers are working on a project on the history of the Board of Longitude, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and based at the University of Cambridge and National Maritime Museum (nmm.ac.uk/longitude). Their talks go beyond the Board itself to consider instruments, illustrations, language, lists and the role of individuals and wider public in the search for longitude and the use of technology at sea. The papers consider makers, users and commissioners of instruments; discuss the complex reality and idealized language of transporting and using scientific instruments at sea and overseas; and consider instruments as tools or objects of invention, investment, experimentation and authority. The commentator, Dr Robert D. Hicks, who has worked extensively on the history of navigation, scientific instruments and material culture, can offer perspective on the papers and this collaborative project between a university and a museum.
And here are the paper titles and abstracts:
Katy Barrett, ‘Longitude Inscrib’d: Early pamphlet solutions to the longitude problem’
The 1714 Act which founded the Board of Longitude initiated a flood of pamphlets proposing new methods of measuring longitude accurately at sea. These are one means of looking at how people thought about the ‘problem’ of longitude in the period before the first minuted Board meeting in 1737. A wide range of these pamphlets included an image to accompany the text. Frontispiece illustrations, geometrical diagrams, maps, and particularly illustrations of instruments all play specific roles within these pamphlets, and all might be said to act as ‘instruments’ for their owners visually to think through and demonstrate their solutions. This paper considers the function of the images that accompanied many of these early schemes, using Bruno Latour’s idea of ‘inscription’ with John Bender’s idea of ‘diagram.’ It looks at how illustrations of instruments acted as a means of communicating proposed designs to potential patrons, and a means of mobilising backers to get these instruments made and tested. Equally, new map projections allowed contributors to think about lines of longitude and latitude as themselves contested, but were also the instrument for testing other solutions. Such questions form the background to the discussions between the Board of Longitude and their most famous applicant, the clockmaker John Harrison, in the 1730s-60s. Inscribed lines – of cartography, of illustration, of print, and of mechanism – tied together the instruments, texts and images which collectively articulated possible solutions.
Alexi Baker, ’‘Precision’, ‘perfection’ and the reality of eighteenth-century instruments at sea’
During the 1700s, the quality and precision of British scientific instruments were often represented in relatively vague terms, such as their having been ‘brought to perfection’ or to an unspecified degree of precision, with little reference to the complications commonly experienced in trying to use them. The reality is that most Georgian instruments were far from precise in the modern sense of the word and were also temperamental, being particularly sensitive to their surroundings. Exposure to movement and to changing environmental conditions often shook parts out of alignment and made materials shrink or expand.
This tended to be even truer for instruments that travelled overseas and for their accoutrements and storage boxes, because of challenging conditions and because of being so distant from the tools’ original makers. The technology intended for use aboard ship faced the jarring motions of the waves and sometimes dramatic changes in temperature and humidity. This greatly hindered natural philosophical readings but also the use of navigational instruments and efforts to reliably ‘find the longitude’ at sea, whether by horological or astronomical means. Researchers and observers on scientific expeditions not only faced having their equipment disordered or broken en route by this environment but often faced arduous conditions once they reached their destinations as well, whether while on the move or at a temporary observatory or research station. As a result of these challenges, instrument usage constantly involved the making of adjustments and repairs and other compensatory practices – a pervasive ‘make do and mend’ culture.
Rebekah Higgitt, ‘Nevil Maskelyne and the instruments of scientific exploration, 1760-1800′
In the later 18th century, as voyages of exploration gained official sanction and state support, Nevil Maskelyne, the Astronomer Royal, frequently dictated what scientific instruments would or should be provided. His lists, drawn up for the Royal Society or the Board of Longitude, have clear resemblances and could be considered as defining the instruments of scientific exploration at this period. This was despite the fact that, although Maskelyne had first-hand experience of maritime navigation and observations in the field, he had never personally been involved in the exploration of new territory. It will be argued that, although the role of Astronomer Royal was key, Maskelyne’s experience of and interest in the use and management of instruments at sea and in the field pre-dated his appointment. It is possible to argue that Maskelyne, personally rather than ex officio¸ helped shape the scientific exploration carried out by Britain and its navy from the 1770s to the beginning of the new century.
As well as considering the genesis and content of Maskelyne’s lists of scientific instruments, this paper will highlight the related work he undertook, including selecting and improving instruments, writing scientific instructions, and choosing the expeditions’ observers. It will also reflect on how, depending on location and context, similar objects might be instruments of exploration, of experiment or of routine observation. Indeed, it was a defining characteristic of such voyages to include a range of scientific and strategic objectives, facilitated by, or involving the testing of, key sets of instruments.