International perspectives on longitude at ICHSTM - Part Two


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(Return to Part One for an introduction to our longitude symposium at ICHSTM and a summary of the first session.) The second session, 'Knowledge in circulation', was ably chaired by our Sophie Waring. First I spoke on 'Friends from foreign parts: international correspondents and collaborators of the British Board of Longitude'. This was about the significant proportion of correspondents and collaborators of the British Board of Longitude who were from other places in Europe, Russia, and their current and former colonies. I found it very striking - as was corroborated by other speakers during the symposium - how open the overall longitude dialogue was in Europe and to what degree this persisted through international wars and actual attempts at industrial espionage. Some of the blog posts which I've written about related issues include this for ICHSTM, this on the French and Harrison's timekeepers in 1763, and one on the scandal in London that year with La Condamine. Next we heard from Suzanne Débarbat of Syrte - Observatoire de Paris, who told us about 'Nicolas-Louis Lacaille/La Caille and southern-skies astronomy in the service of navigation'. After exploding some common myths in Lacaille's biography, Suzanne provided us with an unbelievable amount of useful information about the astronomer's observations on the way to and at the Cape of Good Hope in the mid-eighteenth century. The smaller details were also very interesting - including that Lacaille's astronomical records alternated with (literal) laundry lists, that he signed his letters 'Lacaille' but his publications 'La Caille', and that he sent nine copies of his rare star catalogue to England. Andreas Christoph of Friedrich Schiller University Jena in Germany then spoke on 'The publishing houses of Friedrich Justin Bertuch: geographical and cartographical knowledge from Weimar, 1791-1907'. This moved further away from our own time period and work on the Board of Longitude but was still very interesting to historians of science, technology, publishing and cartography. Andreas showed us a wide variety of maps, globes and publications offered by Bertuch and his commercial descendants. These included a square globe, Goldbach's striking 1799 atlas with white stars on a black background, school globes including one in a wooden box now at Greenwich, and later periodicals. The publishing house was clearly important to the more non-academic development of geography in Germany. Finally in the second session, Georgina Rannard of the University of Edinburgh discussed 'Maps, mariners and the Magellan Straits: English map-making in an Atlantic context, 1660-1714'. This and some of the presentations which followed provided important insight into the ties of navigation and the longitude and related activities with Britain's imperial interests, in this case in Barbados and Jamaica. (One of the key requirements of the Longitude Act of 1714 was, after all, that a 'winning' solution specifically work on a trading route to the West Indies!) Georgina focused on the individual and (attempted) governmental surveying of these valuable lands. What seemed to most excite the audience was her discovery that, as Alison Morrison-Low said, there seem to have been almost as many surveyors at work on Jamaica during this period as there were in Scotland. The third session of the symposium, 'Navigation, encounter and exchange', was chaired by Richard Dunn. First our Katy Barrett presented 'À cause de la Longitude’: in search of international longitudinarians'. (You can also read her ICHSTM blog post about the subject.) Katy made wonderful use of pamphlets while discussing the international dialogue on longitude in print but also in public spaces from the coffeehouse to Bedlam - and especially the contentious rather than the polite dialogue. For example, she discussed slurs upon competitors made by longitude projectors such as (the likely pseudonymous) Jeremy Thacker and Leonard Christofle Sturm. She also provided some great material on the translation of John Harrison's Principles, the resulting commentaries in other nations, and disagreements between foreign translators and Harrison or his representatives. Héloïse Finch-Boyer of Royal Museums Greenwich next spoke on 'A better account of the stars’? Navigational encounters between Europeans and Polynesians in the eighteenth-century Pacific'. This presentation importantly highlighted the often unheralded participation by native peoples in many of the famous voyages of science and discovery to which the British Board of Longitude contributed. Héloïse focused on the Polynesian navigator Tupaia in the voyages of Captain Cook and Joseph Banks, the European-style charts which he produced, and modern evidence of Polynesian navigational practices such as the production of Micronesian stick charts. It was not until the 1990s that it was realised charts in the Banks collection which had been attributed to an 'untutored European' were likely actually by Tupaia, as he observed and adapted to Western modes of communicating navigational knowledge. Interesting considerations about these charts include whether or not north and south are reversed on them for some of the islands because Tupaia was depicting the bearing of islands relative to each other, or because the English were instructing him to incorporate their own mistaken knowledge. Finally, Michael Bravo of the University of Cambridge continued this incorporation of the non-European viewpoint into the longitude story with 'Encounters and near misses: bridging instruments and ethnography in the theatres of Oceanic empires'. Drawing in part on his own first-hand experience, including of the Inuit navigation of trails across the sea ice, Michael brought modern issues related to Western and native conceptions of cartography to the fore. He highlighted how powers and politicians can 're-center' geographies for their own purposes and asked whether longitude can ever be fully 'de-centered'. He also evoked native concepts of location, comparing their traditional sense of belonging to the land to European dead reckoning, and emphasising bodily skilled practice. I thought that one of his examples was particularly striking and poignant - that modern descendants of Iligliuk, the woman who drew this 1822 chart for Parry and Lyon, still remembered her for the great distances she had travelled. Rich Kremer of Dartmouth concluded the symposium with a wonderful commentary, focusing in part on the 'performance of longitude' in diverse spheres. These included: politics; cities, nations and empires; intellectual property; precision, credibility and standardisation; patronage as it became prizes rather than regular pay; bureaucracy; and networks. Rich also wanted to know more about the bureaucracy and paper-handling of the Board of Longitude, and about life on board ships and how that changed over time. The audience took his points and ran with them, showing that the symposium presentations had not only engaged everyone with the wealth of information therein, but had also spawned an even wider range of questions about all aspects of longitude, navigation and related activities. It was great for our team to come up with more questions of our own during all three sessions, and specifically to get more input on international and native participation in the search for the  longitude - since our research and interpretation are naturally oriented around the British Board of Longitude archives and related papers.