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March 28, 2011 / ushachandra

Setting the scene/describing the problem

by Usha Chandrasehran

The Sea Before Time, by Dava Sobel, is an interesting topic that gets one’s mind thinking from various angles and also out of the box.

This chapter is basically written about how man relied on only latitude and deadly reckoning to sail around the world for war and trade in the 18th century. Their only idea of longtitude was based on historical evidence, traditional ‘methods’ and also self assumptions that eventually led to death, directly or indirectly.

Dava Sobel portrated the problem of longtitude by relating to two specific stories, one of Admiral Sir Clowdisley Shovell  and his loss of the Association and 3 other ships and secondly Commodore George Anson and his loss of the Centurian. In both cases, the reluctance of both the chiefs had also led to the downfall of the vessels. For the Admiral, he had refused to have taken advice from an inferior crew and had summoned him to being hung right before the ship had struck the Scilly Isles. For the Commodore, devices like the longtitude clock were not readily accepted thus the ship had gone in rounds resulting in the crew suffering from scurvy and the ship undergoing a storm that could have been avoided.

In this whole chapter, the problem of longtitude was described in a story-like manner of brief historical evidence. History according to me, is a very important aspect when it comes to educating or informing the audience of the birth of a new device. But that only is never enough to prove. Scientific evidence, consisting of facts, mathematics, innovation, stories of success and examples should also be involved. Rather than just history of failure, measures which were taken to make that failure a success would be very important in having the audience believe in science and have more confidence in it.

In this 21st century, some people are still very skeptical in trusting and believing science. With an article as such, it is not only going to bring their impression of science down, but also get them thinking about trusting the new upcoming innovation these days.



Leave a Comment
  1. Carmen Pol / Mar 30 2011 11:35 am

    Hi Usha. Succinct summary! I love to think of past explorers and navigators, to me it is so courageous what they did. I personally don’t know how I would cope in their situation. Sailing blindly on, relying virtually on luck to get them through. Dava Sobel’s story was enthralling, and really drew me in. I always think “I wouldn’t do what those sailors did”, but really in today’s day and age we have the benefit of hindsight — something I seem to forget constantly. I know I still get baffled by new things – technology for instance. And so I would probably act just like the ‘ignorant’ Sir Clowdisley and others if I was being truly honest. I do love a good thought- provoking story, and this one did the trick! Nice job.

  2. Kohei Ishigami / Mar 31 2011 3:42 pm

    Hi, Usha, Carmen,

    I also love to read this sort of story,world exploration and technology.
    Until the invention of a steamship, a tall ship was the fastest vehicle in the world, and navigation system was critical technology. In that era, celestial navigation was the core technology of a long voyage, and which requires idea of latitude, longitude and accurate time scaling device. When reading your well written summary, I immediately recalled one story of invention, marine chronometer. John Harrison. Yes, he was mentioned in this article, and I think this chapter is one part of the book talking about this unsung hero.
    His marine chronometer was the most advanced mechanical clock in 18th century, and it is more accurate than modern quartz watch. Sometimes I think those age(18-19c) was the best centuries for Technology and Science.

    Whatever it is, as you mentioned, great story and enough episodes must have gave great engagement to this article.
    on the other hand, as you mentioned, more wide variety of aspects could be used in this article. I also think the author should explain why those sailors were suffered from sea wreck in detail, I mean, lack of accurate sea chronograph and idea to utilize it. Meanwhile, in this point, I think that could be little disturbing for the style of this book. because that’s not the aim of this chapter. this chapter is just the beginning of the story.

    In your conclusion, people’s attitude toward new technology was mentioned.
    I think that’s good implication to relation between a human attitude and technology. I love that line!

    John Harrison (Wikipedia)

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