Tracy Wilson

Show Notes: Longitude


Missed In History: Longitude
Detail of the watch and drawing from an oil painting by Thomas King of John Harrison with the marine chronometer. Photo by SSPL/Getty Images

When we asked for suggestions for happier history stories not long ago, we got a fair number of responses that were closer to "deeply upsetting" than "sunshine and unicorns" on the subject spectrum. Fortunately, Randy not only suggested longitude, but he also followed it with eight exclamation points. While not a 100 percent happy story, the story of longitude, and of European efforts to figure out how to calculate it, features inventions, clocks and shipwrecks - but mostly their prevention, not their carnage and loss. So: Randy wins.

We said in the episode that we'd share some links for finding your latitude, so here you go:

Correction to this episode: The 1707 shipwreck was off the Isles of Scilly, not the Island of Sicily, which was entirely my reading comprehension error.

Our listener mail is from Kes about the Battle of Blair Mountain.

Episode link: The Discovery of Longitude

For more knowledge: How to Use the Stars to Find Your Way

My research:

  • Royal Naval Museum Library. "Biography: John Harrison." Royal Naval National Museum. http://www.royalnavalmuseum.org/info_sheets_john_harrison.htm
  • Royal Museums Greenwich. "John Harrison and the Longitude Problem." http://www.rmg.co.uk/explore/astronomy-and-time/time-facts/harrison
  • OpenLearn Team. "Latitude and Longitude." The Open University. http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/history-science-technology-and-medicine/history-science/latitude-and-longitude
  • Van Helden, Al. "Longitude at Sea." Rice University Galileo Project. http://galileo.rice.edu/sci/observations/longitude.html
  • Dunn, Richard. "Lunar Distance Method." Cambridge Digital Library. http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/ES-LON-00024
  • Langley, Michael. "John Harrison: The Hero of Longitude." History Today. Vol. 26, issue 12. 1976 http://www.historytoday.com/michael-langley/john-harrison-hero-longitude
  • Carter, William E. and Merri Sue Carter. "The British Longitude Act Reconsidered." American Scientist. Vol. 100. March-April 2012.
  • Sobel, Dava. "Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time." Walker & Company. 2007.

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