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    Re: Teaching the discovery of the longitude
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2011 Mar 15, 03:07 -0700

    Harold Burstyn, you wrote:
    " The first book I assign is Dava Sobel's Longitude. Contrasting the technological solution to the problem of finding longitude (the chronometer) with the scientific solution (lunars) gives me the theme for the course: how much does technology depend on science and how much is it independent? "

    Some people can't stand Sobel's "Longitude". Myself, I think it's an excellent book, but naturally not perfect. And of course, it's a popular history, not a footnoted scholarly work. One flaw that many of us agree on is that it dismisses lunars much too quickly. Though lunars were on their way out practically from the day they were ready for sea, it was a long, slow decline, and they were in fact widely used for solidly 75 years after the first chronometer was recognized as a success. It took that long for chronometers to become reliable enough and above all cheap enough to take over more or less completely. And it's interesting to note that lunars were really the poor man's solution. One of the last navies where I have found documentation for active use of lunars was the navy of the Sultan of Oman, which was a serious power in much of the northeast Indian Ocean and along the Swahili coast in the mid-19th century. In the 1840s, a US diplomatic report (which I can't find at the moment) noted that the Omanis were proficient in the use of lunars and chronometers.


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