Detail from RGO14/44
One of the opportunities that was open to members of the Board of Longitude project has been to get involved with producing written summaries of the content of all the Royal Greenwich Observatory Papers related to the Board of Longitude for the JISC Project “Navigating Eighteenth-Century Science and Technology: The Board of Longitude”.
In the mid eighteenth-century, Astronomer Royal George Airy organised the papers of the Board into volumes that were then bound. Each volumes covered different areas of the Board’s work from chronometer trials to meeting minutes to correspondence about squaring the circle. Together with additional collections from the papers of Nevil Maskelyne, John Pond and George Fisher as well as various ship logs, each volume has been summarised by a member of the project to accompany the digitised volume on the JISC project website.
The process of writing the summaries was something that the project team learnt together, exchanging ideas and problems as we progressed through the work. At first I took a great amount of time combing through each volume, double-checking facts and cross referencing names, but I soon got into the swing of being able to look through the volumes quite efficiently, developing the skill of skim-reading an archive to get a sense of the whole volume before going back over it in more detail and deciding what to prioritise for the volume’s summary. There are also the issues of incomprehensible handwriting, untitled sets of observations and tantalisingly anonymous scraps and notes. It was an interesting and satisfying process to start to learn to read the different handwritings of the various correspondents and the Board’s secretaries as well as to know a longitude reduction when you see one.
But in addition to the practical learning curves of dealing with such a vast amount of material, some of which is in dreadful handwriting, producing summaries for the Board of Longitude Papers changed the way that I understood the Board’s earlier exploits in the eighteenth-century as well as its actions and situation in the nineteenth-century.
What became most interesting are the gaps in the archive, the spaces undermine the typical narrative of the Board, Harrison and his chronometers in the search for longitude story. Instead we find a Board that considered more than just chronometers as a solution to the longitude problem spending nearly as much money on a variety of rewards as they did on publications, particularly when producing the annual Nautical Almanac from 1767. Also notable was the increasing level of bureaucracy over the Board’s lifespan. There is a much larger quantity of material towards the later half of the Board’s archive as it became an increasingly public-facing body, which helped to remind me of the political as well as scientific dimension of the history covered by the project.
I was lucky enough to discover several things that are pertinent to my PhD research and have affected the conclusions that I have come to in my thesis. To give one example there are several documents that discuss the transitions of the Board in 1828 into a Consultative Committee for the Admiralty that have shifted my conclusions about the end of the Board. But the exchange goes both ways; as well as harvesting the archive for sources to support our thesis work, writing summaries allows us to discuss the material that won’t make it into our theses.
Detail from RGO14/45
‘Summary’ is perhaps a misleading term for the pieces that we were asked to produce as they are much more opinion-pieces. Each summary is authored on the digital archive and is a useful platform for giving an opinion about the source material found in any particular volume with regard to its usefulness as historical material as well as what it can tell us about The Board, its associated actors or scientific instruments in Georgian and Regency metropolitan science and society.
I’ve also come across material that I hopefully will be writing up separately form my thesis, particularly a few things in the perpetual motion letters collected by the Board’s secretary Thomas Young, so watch this space!
Most significantly though, working for the JISC project has reminded me of the fun you can have going with an open mind to fresh material, not hoping to pull a certain thesis out of the source, but just observing, thinking and writing. The Board of Longitude archives are a massively rich resource; even after our project is finished there will be narratives to tell and insights to gain for future researchers, especially with access and introductions made easier by the JISC digitisation project and its summaries.
Last summer, despite the rain, our national life was enlivened not only by the Olympics, but also by the Queen’s jubilee. One of the things that struck me during the many events was the prominence accorded to the Thames. One of the major events of the Jubilee was the Thames pageant, in self-conscious reference to Canaletto; the river hosted the Olympic rowing and acted as a stunning backdrop for views of the equestrian events at Greenwich; and the Paralympic opening ceremony had a decidedly watery theme. The Thames has always been, and remains central to the physical and conceptual life of the capital. And yet, given that it’s a big, navigable waterway it seldom appears in the story of the longitude problem. One notable exception would be the Harrisons’ complaint in 1767 that Nevil Maskelyne had transported their timekeepers by land to Greenwich, rather than by boat, causing them to be ‘broke to Pieces.’
Such questions about the physical negotiation of metropolitan space in solving the longitude problem are something that I’m going to consider when I take up the Caird Fellowship at the National Maritime Museum next year. I was given a helping hand recently when I accompanied my undergraduate students on a walking tour of eighteenth-century London with Dr Larry Klein. We were lucky enough to be given access to the Royal Society of Arts which still inhabits its original Adam building by Embankment. The Great Room at the RSA is decorated with murals by James Barry which show The Progress of Human Knowledge and Culture (all of which you can see online thanks to the ‘Your Paintings‘ project). Barry started these in 1777 and they were first exhibited in 1783. The series features six murals showing the progress from Orpheus to Elysium, or the State of Final Retribution. I was excited to see that Barry’s pantheon of ‘great and good men of all ages’ includes Hogarth and Swift among many others.
More interestingly, though, the penultimate painting in the series Commerce, or the Triumph of the Thames, shows Father Thames steering his path to commercial triumph with the rudder in one hand and compass in the other. His bark is carried by ‘the great navigators’: Sir Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh, Sebastian Cabot, and our own longitude proponent Captain James Cook (his portrait is clearly copied from the Nathaniel Dance-Holland portrait now at the NMM). Given that Cook had only returned from his first voyage on the Resolution the year before Barry was given the commission, and the Endeavour voyage had only returned in 1771 this shows the speed with which Cook’s skills at navigating, aided notably by Kendal’s copy (K1) of Harrison’s timekeeper, quickly made him a recognised ‘national treasure.’
Looking up at Cook, I was reminded of another painted paean to national maritime success further down the river: the Painted Hall at Greenwich Old Royal Naval College, completed by Sir James Thornhill in 1714 (also a notable date for longitude as we know). Richard Johns pointed out to me that the figures behind the balustrade over the entrance to the lower hall include Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed observing the sky through his telescope to create the infamous star catalogues Historia coelestis necessary to establish the lunar distance method of finding longitude. The move over 70 years from Thornhill’s Flamsteed in Greenwich to Barry’s Cook by Embankment shows us not only the slow embedding of accurate chronometers as a rival solution to celestial observation for finding longitude at sea, but also the way that the problem and its proponents moved from royally patronised baroque Greenwich to the commercial, sublime environs of the RSA in the West End. The Thames is there in the story, but perhaps not in the way we would expect.
John Harrison, Remarks on a Pamphlet lately published by the Rev. Mr Maskelyne, under the Authority of the Board of Longitude
(London, 1767), pp.22-3
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
We’re delighted to announce that the Cambridge Digital Library has just launched some samples of material from the Board of Longitude archive, which is being digitized under the JISC-supported project, ‘Navigating Eighteenth Century Science and Technology: the Board of Longitude’.
We’ve put up three volumes from the Board’s archive: the first volume of confirmed minutes (1737-1779), which includes a full transcription and covers all the meetings involving John Harrison; William Wales’s log from Cook’s second voyage; and a group of letters and reports by astronomers and captains about work on late 18th and early 19th century voyages of discovery. For all three, we’ve also begun to make links with the collections at Royal Museums Greenwich.
The rest of the archive will go online this summer, but we’d like to get feedback on how it works and things we can do to improve it. There’s lots of interesting stuff in these three volumes, so please have a look and email any comments to Huw Jones at Cambridge University Library (email@example.com).
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.
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.
Alexi mentioned in a previous post that one of the interesting questions for our project is the survival, or not, of the sources with which we deal. Alongside that comes the question of the history of our main archive at the Cambridge University Library. Alexi mentioned that we know the volumes were arranged and bound as we now have them by George Airy, then Astronomer Royal, in the 1850s, and how he commented on their potential as a resource.
A recent new addition to our project is a digitisation side-project at the UL, funded by JISC. We will be making the entire 68 volumes of the Board of Longitude archives available online with summaries, commentaries and biographical information, in a similar format to the wonderful new Newton Papers resource. Those of us on the project who are charged with writing the summary for each volume therefore have the enjoyable task of going through each volume and making it clear how its contents fit into the history of the Board, and the stories told of it so far.
While writing my summary of Volume 1 last week, I came across this note, which was clearly accidentally bound in with the papers in the 1850s. It’s a letter from Airy to Edward Stone, who was Chief Assistant at the Royal Observatory in 1865. It’s interesting that Airy was asking Stone to go through the Board records in the 1860s, and trying to join up the correspondence with the minutes. Exactly what we are now trying to do!
Because last month’s Maskelyne Symposium, on 14-15 October, has now happened, the details have been taken off the NMM’s website. For posterity, therefore, I thought it would be wise to record details of the programme here. All-in-all, though, I thought the event went very well: many thanks to all the speakers, those who helped me organise things and to everyone who came to hear more.
On the afternoon of Friday 14 October, we began with a brief view of some of the Maskelyne-related objects that came to the National Maritime Museum in 2009. I began with a quick tour of the new instroductory gallery, Voyagers, which includes objects related to James Cook, John Harrison, Larcum Kendall and, of course, Maskelyne. These last included the pastel portrait attributed to John Russell, Maskelyne’s medal from the Institut Français on becoming one of their few Foreign Members and an orrery by William Jones that is said by the Maskelyne family to have belonged to Nevil’s daughter Margaret.
This was followed by two further session, one introducing the Maskelyne manuscript collection, led by Richard in the new Caird Library, and the other showing of Maskelyne’s observing suit (see picture in this post) and his wife’s wedding dress, led by Amy Miller.
The next day was the Symposium proper, with the following talks, after coffee and an introduction by Richard:
- Revisiting and Revising Maskelyne’s Reputation (Dr Rebekah Higgitt, NMM Curator of History of Science and Technology)
- Visualizing the Maskelynes (Dr Jenny Gaschke, NMM Curator of Fine Art)
- ‘The Rev. Mr. Nevil Maskelyne, F.R.S. and Myself’: the Mathematical Career of Maskelyne’s Sometime Assistant, Robert Waddington (Professor Jim Bennett, Director of the Museum of the History of Science, University of Oxford)
- Object talks by Rory McEvoy (NMM Curator of Horology) in the Royal Observatory’s Horology Workshop
- Calculating the Nautical Almanac: Maskelyne and his Human Computers (Dr Mary Croarken, independent scholar)
- The Maskelynes at Home (Dr Amy Miller, NMM Curator of Decorative Arts)
It was interesting that our ‘celebration’ of Maskelyne took a somewhat sideways view of the man, seen as much through the lives and work of his collaborators and colleagues or the eyes of biographers and artists as through his own writings. The man of science was discussed as a man at home, which is apt when home and work were so closely entwined at the Royal Observatory, and the physical remains of his life took as much pride of place as his intellectual heritage. Here was a man who was both “le dieu de l’astronomie” (to Delambre, according to Lalande), and who was short and stout with a penchant for dairy products.
As you’ve already seen in Richard’s post, four members of the project – Richard, Alexi, Sophie and I – spent last week at the annual symposium of the Scientific Instrument Commission in Kassel, Germany. The theme – Instruments, Images and Texts – seemed particularly pertinent to us, bringing together a wide range of our research and highlighting the work that we do pulling together the archives in Cambridge, the instruments in Greenwich, and a huge diversity of sources from elsewhere.
Alexi opened our panel session by looking at the different technologies encountered and employed by the Board of Longitude, how these were considered by both the Commissioners and the external ‘public,’ and how these became ‘black boxes.’ I then followed looking at the visual discussions of the longitude problem on paper – maps, diagrams, illustrations – and how these posed a visual problem in the early hunt for longitude. Richard brought his research right up to date, from his visit to Göttingen, talking about Tobias Mayer’s work on the lunar distance method, and how his tables and instruments changed and translated in the process of being considered by the Board. Finally, Sophie looked at the end of the Board, and how thinking of the Nautical Almanac as an instrument as well as a standardised text can help us to understand the relationships between the different players in the Board of Longitude’s demise. The panel went well and we were glad to meet some of our advisory board and get their feedback.
Elsewhere in the conference, I was struck by a similar concern with the questions of replication, translation and standardisation which had woven through our panel. Papers considered how historical actors have replicated and changed each other’s collections, the process of replicating and using historic instruments in a museum, and, in a more modern sense of replication, how to give these digital life through online databases and collections online programmes. One long panel considered how eighteenth-century cabinets of experimental philosophy translated and communicated the knowledge they created to a wider public, and other papers looked at how older scientific knowledge can be translated for a modern museum audience. Further speakers considered how texts and instruments changed and were re-interpreted between different users, raising problems of standard in both quality and parity and, coming back to databases, we began to think about how these could be brought back together across European boundaries.
Outside of the presentations, we had ample opportunity to make our own connections between instrument, image and text. The very first evening introduced us to the marvellous collections of the Landgraves of Kassel in both the Cabinet of Astronomy and Physics, and the stunning baroque Marble Bath. We saw planetarium shows, pendulums, mural quadrants and globes. We viewed the beautiful alchemical manuscript collections in the Murhard Library, were initiated into the history of the early university at Göttingen, saw modern astrophysicists at work, and happily investigated the stores of the Historical Museum of Frankfurt. Almost overwhelmed by the wealth of things to see and learn, the breaks provided the perfect chance to pick the brains of the many experts in attendance, and to think as a group about the Board of Longitude in its wider context. I, for one, think this conference will be ‘instrumental’ in taking our research forward. Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.
Last Saturday, Alexi, Sophie and I presented some of our research from the project at a session called ‘New Perspectives on the Board of Longitude’ at the annual conference of the British Society for the History of Science. Our session and paper abstracts can be found here on my ‘other’ blog, where I also posted some thoughts on the conference as a whole.
I can say that the other two presented great papers, and that we had some good discussion in the session. Because of the interests of some of the audience, this particularly focused on the Board in the 19th century, with questions and comments about the political scene, ideologies of public service and the role of Humphry Davy (President of the Royal Society and, therefore, ex officio member of the Board).
Top marks for a beautiful PowerPoint presentation (plus authoritatively-presented evidence and argument) go to Alexi. Top marks for enthusiasm and first grown-up conference presentation to Sophie! And a special prize to Simon Naylor for chairing the session, having already enthused us with a paper on 19th-century meteorology and the Magnetic Crusade in the previous session.