Keeping Our Bearings: First Cartography Conference at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, November 13-14

Ocean Atlantique ou Mer du Nord (1693) Pierre Mortier (1661-1711) Wikimedia Commons

Ocean Atlantique ou Mer du Nord (1693)
Pierre Mortier (1661-1711)
Wikimedia Commons

Join the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts at their first cartography conference, Keeping Our Bearings: Maps, Navigation, Shipwrecks, and the Unknown, on November 13 and 14, with optional related programming on November 15. Topics range from fifteenth-century navigational tools to nineteenth-century whaling shipwrecks to twenty-first-century wave piloting in the Marshall Islands. ABOPublic readers may especially enjoy “From the Haunt of Monsters to the Domain of the Navigator: Evolving Ideas about the Oceans,” a presentation given by medieval and Renaissance map scholar Chet Van Duzer. Van Duzer will discuss how perceptions of the sea and the dangers it held changed in light of technological advancements from antiquity to the Age of Exploration, which continued into the eighteenth century.

Of special interest to anyone fascinated with the eighteenth century is the conference’s optional extension tour of Mystic Seaport‘s new exhibition Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude from September 19, 2015 through March 28, 2016. This exhibition, on a limited-time tour from England, examines the invention of the chronometer, a Georgian technological achievement that fundamentally altered marine navigation. Sailors used chronometers to determine longitude, or their east-west position. Without this tool, sea voyagers had no precise way to pinpoint their location and risked running aground of hidden obstacles or being lost at sea. The problem of longitude hindered sea travel so significantly that in 1714 the British Parliament passed the Longitude Act. The act rewarded up to £20,000, an amount worth around £2,582,000 today, to anyone who could develop an accurate way to measure longitude.

Harrison's Chronometer H5 (n.d.). Wikimedia Commons.

Harrison’s Chronometer H5 (1772)
Wikimedia Commons

English carpenter and clockmaker John Harrison (1693-1776) is credited with the ultimate solution to this problem: his marine sea-watch, or the chronometer. Chronometers are precise clocks that track time at a standard location, such as the Prime Meridian. Sailors used the difference between Greenwich Mean Time and local time, measured by looking at the positions of the stars, to determine the distance traveled east or west. Although Harrison was the first to make a working chronometer, this eighteenth-century achievement was a more collaborative effort than previously believed, as visitors of the Ships, Clocks, & Stars exhibition will discover. For example, featured artifacts include a padded “observing suit” worn by Nevil Maskelyne (1732-1811) in the 1760s at the Royal Observatory. Maskelyne’s celestial observations helped him make the connection between astronomy and timekeeping, the basis of the method used to determine longitude with a chronometer. This special exhibition promises to be both entertaining and enlightening for conference-goers.

Conference Registration Information

  • Members $65 / Non-Members $75 / Students with ID $25
  • Optional: Introduction to Astrolabes
    $10 members/$15 non-members
  • Optional: Tour of Mystic Seaport Exhibition
    $20 members/$25 non-members
  • Online: Click here to order tickets online.
    Call: (508) 997-0046 ext. 100

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