By recasting and deepening our understanding of the U.S. Navy and the United States at sea, Smith brings to the fore the overlooked work of naval hydrographers, surveyors, and cartographers. In the nautical chart's soundings, names, symbols, and embedded narratives, Smith recounts the largely untold story of a young nation looking to extend its power over the boundless sea.
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Jason Smith adds the ocean itself to naval history, revealing the tight yet underappreciated connection between American sea power and knowledge of the ocean throughout the U.S. Navy's 19th and 20th-century history. Long before submarine warfare and beach landings drew the navy into a strong partnership with oceanography, the navy pursued science of the sea and employed technologies to investigate, represent, and attempt to control the ocean. Knowing the ocean played an integral role in the navy's support of commerce and maritime enterprise in the 19th century, and continued at the turn of the century to provide a critical foundation for emerging military and strategic interests. Alfred Thayer Mahan's famous theory of sea power, long recognized for shaping the expansionist American empire, rested on the notion that the ocean environment could be controlled strategically. By putting the ocean at the center of this history and featuring the work of often invisible hydrographers and surveyors, Smith has prompted a reevaluation of the role of science in the US navy and the contribution of knowledge of the ocean to American expansion."—Helen Rozwadowski, University of Connecticut