Welcome to the NavList Message Boards.


A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding

Compose Your Message

Add Images & Files
    Re: History of the Nautical Almanac
    From: Lu Abel
    Date: 2012 Apr 10, 09:59 -0700
    Thanks, Frank.

    I guess I was viewing "sharing of the Almanac" from a 20th century perspective of "Mark everything Secret to keep it out of the hands of potential enemies"   Or maybe back to the 17th century when rutters (sailing directions) were considered Top Secret by the countries that produced them because accurate sailing directions gave countries a competitive edge in trans-oceanic commerce.

    From: Frank Reed <FrankReed@HistoricalAtlas.com>
    To: NavList@fer3.com
    Sent: Monday, April 9, 2012 5:21 PM
    Subject: [NavList] Re: History of the Nautical Almanac

    Lu, you wrote:
    "One thing I find interesting in this history is that even though the relationship between the British and their former colonies (the US) was pretty sketchy in the late 18th and early 19th centuries (let's remember that this year is the bi-centenary of the War of 1812 between the US and Britain), US oceanic navigation seems dependent on the British nautical almanac!"
    Hey, it was the Age of Enlightenment! :) Many of the scholars and other principals involved in the production of the various almanacs believed that the open transfer of information was an absolute universal good. Maskelyne famously shared all of the data and tables that made the Nautical Almanac possible. Maybe he shouldn't have done so... Of course, that philosophy was also a product of inevitability: anything printed could be transfered from one nation to another at almost no cost. It's not so different from the effortless transfer of information on the Internet today, except, of course, that today much of that content is creative work under copyright. But today, just as it was 200 years ago, we hope that the free exchange of information is a two-way street. Or are we simply giving away the family jewels?
    You added:
    "Given what Nathaniel Bowditch did for the rest of navigation, I'm surprised his genius didn't find a way to make the US independent of the British for nautical almanacs."
    I've reviewed in considerable detail what Bowditch did and also what he didn't do. His significance to American navigation is mostly legend. He was the right man at the right moment in time, and he was given credit for things which other people had already done or were doing nearly simultaneously. If Nathaniel Bowditch had never lived, US ocean navigation would have been scarcely different. He did, however, have a significant influence on a generation of young mathematicians and scientists in New England especially. Benjamin Peirce, for example, was one of his proteges and Peirce (pronounced "purse" according to Joel Silverberg) went on to lead the team that produced the first home-grown American navigational and astronomical almanac, the American Ephemeris & Nautical Almanac, in the 1850s. But even at that time, there were voices who asked why anyone would bother. The British almanac computers were already doing the work. Critics asked why that work should be duplicated. And it's a good question! Why re-calculate what you can borrow or steal?? In the event, the lunar ephemerides in the American almanac were slightly better than the ones in the British almanac (only for a couple of years, and for easily copied technical reasons) so they did win significant international bragging rights for American science. I suppose the arguments in favor of an American almanac in that period were similar to the arguments in favor of a European "GPS" (their Galileo) today. Even so, in just fifty years, ironically a few years before the outbreak of the First World War, the almanac offices across western Europe and in the US began the process of consolidating the work to reduce duplication.

    NavList message boards and member settings: www.fer3.com/NavList
    Members may optionally receive posts by email.
    To cancel email delivery, send a message to NoMail[at]fer3.com

    Browse Files

    Drop Files


    What is NavList?

    Join NavList

    (please, no nicknames or handles)
    Do you want to receive all group messages by email?
    Yes No

    You can also join by posting. Your first on-topic post automatically makes you a member.

    Posting Code

    Enter the email address associated with your NavList messages. Your posting code will be emailed to you immediately.

    Email Settings

    Posting Code:

    Custom Index

    Start date: (yyyymm dd)
    End date: (yyyymm dd)

    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site