Sailing School: Navigating Science and Skill, 1550-1800

Sailing School: Navigating Science and Skill, 1550-1800

by Margaret E. Schotte


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Throughout the Age of Exploration, European maritime communities bent on colonial and commercial expansion embraced the complex mechanics of celestial navigation. They developed schools, textbooks, and instruments to teach the new mathematical techniques to sailors. As these experts debated the value of theory and practice, memory and mathematics, they created hybrid models that would have a lasting impact on applied science.

In Sailing School, a richly illustrated comparative study of this transformative period, Margaret E. Schotte charts more than two hundred years of navigational history as she investigates how mariners solved the challenges of navigating beyond sight of land. She begins by outlining the influential sixteenth-century Iberian model for training and certifying nautical practitioners. She takes us into a Dutch bookshop stocked with maritime manuals and a French trigonometry lesson devoted to the idea that "navigation is nothing more than a right triangle." The story culminates at the close of the eighteenth century with a young British naval officer who managed to keep his damaged vessel afloat for two long months, thanks largely to lessons he learned as a keen student.

This is the first study to trace the importance, for the navigator's art, of the world of print. Schotte interrogates a wide variety of archival records from six countries, including hundreds of published textbooks and never-before-studied manuscripts crafted by practitioners themselves. Ultimately, Sailing School helps us to rethink the relationship among maritime history, the Scientific Revolution, and the rise of print culture during a period of unparalleled innovation and global expansion.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781421429533
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date: 07/30/2019
Series: Information Cultures
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 534,812
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Margaret E. Schotte is an assistant professor of history at York University.

Table of Contents

Editorial Practices
Prologue. A Model Education—Seville, ca. 1552
Chapter One. From the Water to the Writing Book—Amsterdam, ca.
Chapter Two. "By the Shortest Path": Developing Mathematical Rules—Dieppe, 1675
Chapter Three. Hands-On Theory along the Thames—London, 1683
Chapter Four. Paper Sailors, Classroom Lessons—The Netherlands, ca. 1710
Chapter Five. Lieutenant Riou Is Put to the Test—The Southern Indian Ocean, 1789
Epilogue. Sailing by the Book, ca. 1800

What People are Saying About This

Richard Dunn

"An enjoyable and enlightening read. Sailing School is an original, perceptive, and scholarly addition to work on the history of navigation and seafaring in a period that saw important changes across Europe. It should appeal to anyone with an interest in maritime history, as well as those interested in the history of science, mathematics, and education."

Dava Sobel

"You might envision an early navigator tying knots and reefing sails as adroitly as he sets a course, but would you also credit him with a mastery of multiplication tables, trigonometry, and logarithms? Thanks to Margaret Schotte's personal voyage through several centuries' worth of seamen's texts from maritime countries, Sailing School teaches us what sailors had to learn on land to find their way at sea."

Simon Schaffer

"This careful and innovative book offers a challenging account of the various ways in which western European states discussed and planned the training of navigators in the period between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. With its impressive analysis of the widest range of writings by mariners, educators, administrators, and mathematicians, Sailing School convincingly challenges received models of the transition from practice to print and from experience to theory in early modern Europe. In its subtle interpretations of shipboard life and technical expertise, this welcome publication will be essential reading for historians of education and of science, of maritime culture and of the emergence of modern systems of technical authority."

Karel Davids

"Sailing Schoolis a highly originalbook on navigation skills in early modern Europe.Drawing ona wide range of sources in many different languages,Margaret E. Schottehas written the first truly transnational history ofnautical training, one whichcompellingly shows thecrucial roleofbooks. This is a brilliant contribution to maritime history and the history of knowledge."

Pamela O. Long

"Well-conceived and rich in empirical detail, this fascinating study traverses with ease between the worlds of print, teaching, and book learning and the worlds of seafaring, navigational practice, and instrumentation. Sailing School beautifully shows the extremely rich traditions of navigational print and the cross-dissemination across linguistic, political, and geographical boundaries. An outstanding, highly original piece of scholarship, this will be the standard, go-to book for years to come."

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