Navigation: An Even Shorter Introduction

A combination of historians, literary scholars, naval captains, archivists, curators, and even the odd former explorer, the Trustees of the Hakluyt Society collectively represent a wide range of expertise on travel and navigation. Yet few are as uniquely qualified to speak on the topic as Professor Jim Bennett, former Director of the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford and, since 2016, President of the Hakluyt Society. This year, his Navigation: A Very Short Introduction was published by Oxford University Press. In this blog, Professor Bennett reflects on the joys and challenges of discussing thousands of years of navigational development in a short book – or even a brief talk at a literary festival.

JB: My little book Navigation: A Very Short Introduction was published earlier this year and, as a more commercial work than my usual brief, I’ve had unfamiliar opportunities to speak at a few promotional events. I always accept, not because I imagine selling lots of books, but because it’s a nice experience that may never come again. So, I’m one of those speakers on the festival fringe, where the venue is a pub or bookshop, and a few people turn up because they want to fill their schedules and these tickets are free. Still, it’s fun – nice to feel part of the larger occasion and briefly to wear a badge marked Author.

But what to say? No-one really wants to understand position-line navigation, even if I could explain it in the time I have – perhaps as little as 20 minutes. I even did one so-called ‘speed dating’ event, where speakers circulated between groups with 10 minutes for each. These ‘VSIs’, as Authors learn to call their books, are, of course, heroic condensations in themselves – in my case of navigation at sea from the Bronze Age to post-GPS in 35,000 words – so how to distil that further into 20 minutes?

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Navigation at sea is a very big story, spanning all historical epochs, cultures and oceans – a story of world history but told though a technical narrative. It was necessary to give some account of all the big players – from the Minoans in the Mediterranean, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, &c, sailing (usually) in a large but relatively enclosed sea, to the Pacific Islanders in the vast expanse of Oceania.

With my European history background, I was already comfortable with navigation in the Atlantic from the Norse to the Portuguese, Spanish, English and Dutch, with their introduction of techniques codified in mathematics and the use of instruments. But there was a great deal to say about the Indian Ocean with the overlapping and intersecting activities of the Egyptians, Arabs, Indians and Chinese – and eventually the Europeans. I also had to cover the growing convergence of technical resources into the modern age.

Cultural differences needed addressing as well as the geographical and technical. It struck me that Europeans marvelled at the navigational feats of Polynesian sailors, seeing their far-flung islands separated by great tracts of ocean, when Pacific peoples might insist that this is how they are connected.

Among the range of motivations for voyaging, I was pleased, for reasons that may be obvious when we meet, to devote a paragraph or two to the Irish of the early Middle Ages, who could represent an ascetic or devotional impulse. The plan was to settle in places where life would generally be considered impossible – with some success, before they were displaced from the Faroes and from Iceland by the very different strategy of the Vikings.

I should be careful not to mislead potential readers here. My narrative is driven by the technical development of navigation. I manage to mention Richard Hakluyt on page one, by using his Principal Navigations to illustrate the general meaning of ‘navigation’, in contrast with the technical definition of his associate, the mathematician John Dee, where it refers to the means of locating a position and setting a course. But the technical is entangled with geography, history and culture.

When OUP invited me to write the book, I thought I should explain frankly that I am a historian, not a navigator. They explained in turn that a historical account of this technical topic was what they wanted and this proved to be wise, I believe. I have to deal with technical matters, however superficially, but readers unfamiliar with the business of navigation pick this up gradually, through its evolution over time.

Experienced navigators, on the other hand, will not be satisfied with the technical content of so short a book, but they probably know little of how their discipline evolved and who was responsible for its development.

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Spanish mariner’s astrolabe, c.1600. Museum of the History of Science, Oxford.

If the subject is large, how am I to bring it within the compass of 20 minutes? One unifying notion I’ve been using is ‘the shared sky’. As I worked through how sailors in their different epochs, peoples and oceans dealt with the challenges of knowing where they were and of moving on towards their landfall, something that should have been obvious from the beginning dawned with increasing force. On the open sea, the sky was the same for everyone.

Different techniques were used to codify and utilise the sky, with different vocabularies and instruments (or with none), but the principles that everyone applied were broadly similar. They shared the same sky. Of course it looked different from different places and at different times – that was what gave the sky navigational purchase – but a grasp of the patterns and movements recurred within every formulation.

A further thought links us to all these different peoples and is the emotional hook I deploy to move my listeners to an empathy with my subject. We share this same sky. However remote we may seem from the Phoenicians or the Vikings, for direction and for what we call ‘latitude’ they used a ‘north star’, which they identified in the same whirling pattern as we observe today. I am always affected by this thought – a feeling perhaps shared by my modest audiences. They seem to leave happy to have ticked off another talk in the programme, some even with copies of my little book.

Professor Jim Bennett is a historian of science who has held curatorial posts in national museums in London and in university museums in Cambridge and Oxford, where he was Director of the Museum of the History of Science. He has been President of the British Society for the History of Science and is currently President of the Hakluyt Society. His books include The Divided Circle: a History of Instruments for Astronomy, Navigation, and Surveying (Phaidon-Christie’s: 1987) and Navigation: A Very Short History (Oxford University Press: 2017).


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Professor Jim Bennett waiting to speak at Chipping Norton Literary Festival
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Looking back on Hakluyt@400

The two-day international conference held to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of Richard Hakluyt has been an appropriate highlight in a packed Hakluyt Quatercentenary programme  with events in Oxford and Wetheringsett. Thanks are due to the excellent organisation by Claire Jowitt, Daniel Carey and Anthony Payne, as well as to our generous hosts, the Bodleian Library, the Museum for the History of Science, and Christ Church, Oxford. In this blog, Dr Lauren Working, research associate on TIDE (Travel, Transculturality, and Identity in England, 1550-1700), an ERC-funded project led by Hakluyt Society Council member Prof Nandini Das, looks back on  #Hakluyt400.

The geographer and clergyman Richard Hakluyt died in good company: 1616 also marked the death of two internationally-renowned writers, William Shakespeare and the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes. Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter and Cervantes’s re-working of chivalric romance have continued to grace school curricula and playhouses around the globe; by comparison, Hakluyt’s impact is less immediately apparent.

The Hakluyt Society, in conjunction with the Bodleian Library Museum for the History of Science and Museum for the History of Science in Oxford, held a two-day conference in November 2016 to examine Hakluyt’s legacy at the four-hundredth anniversary of his death. His two editions of The Principal Navigations, Traffiques, and Voiages of the English Nation (1589, enlarged 1598-1600), have long been considered some of the most important collections of English travel writing ever published, and the conference assembled an international cohort of speakers who presented current research on their work for the forthcoming 14-volume critical edition of The Principal Navigations.


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A number of scholars discussed the particularities of English interactions with indigenous peoples, from Africans in Guinea to the Algonquians in Virginia. Mary Fuller examined the casualties of Anglo-Inuit exchange in the English search for the Northwest Passage, and complicated the “us” vs. “them” mentality of English voyages by highlighting the heterogeneity and factions among ship crews.

Other papers engaged with the continuity between state policy and trade in the late middle ages and early modern period through Hakluyt’s inclusion of a fourteenth-century poem; the importance of naval history and the experience of seamen in effecting expansion; the mercantilist emphasis of Hakluyt’s second edition; and the English desire to exploit global markets, such as Indian cotton. Joyce Chaplin delivered a keynote lecture that argued that English attitudes towards natural resources and climate-based notions of human physiognomy set the groundwork for the enslavement of non-European peoples, to disastrous consequences.

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Prof Nandini Das presenting on the place of India in Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations. Hakluyt and the Renaissance Discovery of the World conference, Oxford.

 

The discussions that emerged from the papers centred around several key aspects of early modern global historiography, suggesting future avenues for research. One is the continuing development of environmental studies and ecocriticism as important approaches in the history of expansion, which was, after all, fundamentally about land and the exploitation of its resources. As Joyce Chaplin put it, pro-imperial authorities and their agents saw a relationship between economies and ecosystems. The Greek oikos and the Latin oeco were terms that denoted households, but also the management of the estates themselves.

Secondly, papers highlighted the need to reconstruct the experience of non-European peoples, especially their capacity to dictate the terms of Anglo-indigenous exchange. Surekha Davies pointed out that instances of the passive voice in Hakluyt might offer hints as to moments when indigenous peoples dominated colonial encounters, at times when Europeans struggled to successfully dictate the terms of the exchange.

Related to attempts to recalibrate approaches to intercultural encounters, other papers emphasised the value of using non-English-language sources to enhance and complicate global historiography. Persian accounts of English diplomatic missions, such as Anthony Jenkinson’s in the 1560s, both offer correctives to the source manipulation of Safavid chronicles while offering new perspectives on English writings about diplomatic encounters in the east.

Finally, presenters stressed the ongoing importance of tracing the intimate networks between patrons, merchants, gentlemen, and travel writers who produced knowledge about, and effected, empire, which was nothing if not a collaborative effort.

The conference concluded with a public lecture by the historian and BBC broadcaster Michael Wood, who used early modern travel narratives from Asia and South America to question the very idea of discovery: who, he asked, really “discovered” whom in any given exchange?

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Michael Wood delivering the public lecture ‘Voyages, Traffiques, Discoveries’

Scholars today are wary of celebrating Hakluyt’s use of geography, given his imperial aims, but Principal Navigations remains a rich source for accessing the lives of individual agents, and for understanding large-scale historical change. To Hakluyt, the English would not thrive from insularity, and could only find themselves by engaging with the rest of the world.


Lauren Working is a historian of sixteenth and seventeenth-century English politics and culture. Her research examines the convergence between expansion and state formation, drawing on textual and archaeological sources to reconstruct the impact of colonization on the social and discursive worlds of Jacobean London. Lauren is a research associate on TIDE (Travel, Transculturality, and Identity in England, 1550-1700),  a five-year, ERC-funded project that aims to investigate how mobility in the age of travel and discovery shaped English perceptions of human identity based on cultural identification and difference. The project is headed by Professor Nandini Das at the University of Liverpool.


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‘Hakluyt & the Renaissance Discovery of the World’ – Conference Programme

Hakluyt & the Renaissance Discovery of the World

An international conference to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of Richard Hakluyt (23rd November 1616)

Thursday 24th November 2016, the Bodleian Library, Oxford, & Friday 25th November 2016, Christ Church, Oxford

organised by Prof. Daniel Carey (NUI Galway), Prof. Claire Jowitt (University of East Anglia), and Mr. Anthony Payne (Hakluyt Society)

To register: https://chch.digitickets.co.uk/event/1592271?catID=6761

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Programme

24th November, the Bodleian Library

 9.30AM–10.30AM arrival & coffee WESTON LIBRARY CONCOURSE


SESSION 1: 10.30AM–12.15PM WESTON LIBRARY, LECTURE THEATRE

Hakluyt, Oxford, & centres of power

 Chair: Dr Sarah Tyacke (Hakluyt Society)

Prof. Sebastian Sobecki (University of Groningen): ‘Hakluyt and the Libelle of Englyshe Polycye

Prof. David Harris Sacks (Reed College): ‘Learning to Know: The Educations of Richard Hakluyt and Thomas Harriot’.

Anthony Payne (Hakluyt Society): ‘Hakluyt and Aristotle at Oxford’


12.15PM-1.15PM lunch WESTON LIBRARY CONCOURSE


SESSION 2: 1.15PM–3.00PM WESTON LIBRARY, LECTURE THEATRE

 Chair: Dr Will Poole (Oxford)

‘the three corners of the world’ (William Shakespeare, King John)

Prof. Nandini Das (University of Liverpool): ‘Hakluyt and India’

Dr Felicity Stout (University of Sheffield): ‘Hakluyt and Russia’

Prof. Bernhard Klein (University of Kent): ‘Hakluyt and West Africa’


3.00PM-3.30PM tea WESTON LIBRARY CONCOURSE


SESSION 3: 3.30PM–5.15PM WESTON LIBRARY, LECTURE THEATRE

Chair: Prof. Will Ryan (Hakluyt Society)

Encounters, communication, & technology

Prof. Michael Leroy Oberg (SUNY Geneseo): ‘Tattoos, Towns, and Tribes: Using Hakluyt to Reconsider Algonquian Communities in “Virginia”’

Prof. Ladan Niayesh (Paris Diderot): ‘Under Persian Eyes: Hakluyt’s Corrective to Safavid Chronicles’

Prof. Surekha Davies (Western Connecticut State University) ‘Hakluyt, The Principal   Navigations, and Encounters with Indigenous Artefacts’


KEYNOTE LECTURE, 5.30PM, WESTON LIBRARY, LECTURE THEATRE

Chair: Capt. Mike Barritt, RN (Hakluyt Society)

Prof. Joyce E. Chaplin (Harvard): ‘“No Land Unhabitable, Nor Sea Innavigable”: Hakluyt’s Argument from Design’

 Followed by drinks reception 7.00PM–8.00PM, UPPER LIBRARY, CHRIST CHURCH

 


25th November, Christ Church

 SESSION 4: 9.00AM–10.15AM BLUE BOAR LECTURE THEATRE

Chair: Prof. Joyce Lorimer (Wilfrid Laurier University)

Theatres of war, near & far

Prof. Carla Rahn Phillips (University of Minnesota): ‘Sarmiento’s Voyage to the South Atlantic and early 1580s International Politics’

Prof. Michael Brennan (University of Leeds): ‘Hakluyt, Howard of Effingham, and Naval Warfare’


 10.15AM-10.45AM coffee UPPER LIBRARY


SESSION 5: 10.45AM–12. NOON BLUE BOAR LECTURE THEATRE

 Rival ambitions

 Chair: Prof. Joyce Chaplin (Harvard)

Prof. Joan-Pau Rubiés (Catalan Institute for Advanced Research): ‘Imperial Emulation and the Making of The Principal Navigations

Prof. Daniel Carey (NUI Galway): ‘Hakluyt and the Clothworkers: Long Distance Trade and English Commercial Development’


12.NOON-1.00PM lunch REFECTORY


SESSION 6: 1.00PM–2.40PM BLUE BOAR LECTURE THEATRE

Telling tales

Chair: Dr Matthew Day (Newman University, Birmingham)

Prof. Mary Fuller (MIT): ‘Consent and Dissent at High Latitudes: The Voyages of John Davis’

Prof. Claire Jowitt (University of East Anglia): ‘Heroic Hakluyt?’

Prof. Joyce Lorimer (Wilfred Laurier University): ‘“Writing for service”: Lawrence Keymis’s Relation of the Second Voyage to Guiana (1596)’


2.40PM–3.00PM tea/coffee UPPER LIBRARY


SESSION 7: 3.00PM-4.40PM BLUE BOAR LECTURE THEATRE

 Chair: Prof. Andrew Lambert (King’s College London)

Influences & legacy

Dr Heather Dalton (Melbourne): ‘Hakluyt and the Cabots’

Prof. Michiel van Groesen (Leiden): ‘Hakluyt and De Bry’

Dr John Hemming (Hakluyt Society): ‘Clements Markham’s half-century for the Hakluyt Society’


FREE PUBLIC LECTURE, 5.00PM–6.45PM, EXAMINATION SCHOOLS (SOUTH)

 Chair: Prof. Jim Bennett (Hakluyt Society)

 Prof. Michael Wood (Manchester): ‘Voyages, Traffiques, Discoveries’

Michael Wood tells three stories from the Age of Exploration, looking at meetings between civilisations in Mexico, India and China, with a coda on the coast of Sierra Leone. Exploring these cross-cultural encounters, the talk looks at what they tell us about Western ways of seeing the world beyond Europe.


For information contact:

daniel.carey@nuigalway.ie

c.jowitt@uea.ac.uk

payne.anthony@btinternet.com


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Hakluyt@400 Quatercentenary programme Autumn 2016

This year is the 400th anniversary of the death of Richard Hakluyt (1552-1616) and the Hakluyt Society will mark this with an exciting programme of events in Oxford and at Hakluyt’s parish of Wetheringsett in Suffolk. Centrepiece of the Hakluyt@400 events will be the two-day international conference Richard Hakluyt and the Renaissance Discovery of the World, taking place in Oxford on 24-25 November (book your tickets here)

Two free exhibitions will accompany this interdisciplinary conference, both to be launched in October 2016: Hakluyt and Geography in Oxford 1550–1650 at Christ Church, Oxford, and The World in a Book: Hakluyt and Renaissance Discovery, at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. In addition, on Sunday 27 November there will be a commemorative service in All Saints Church, Wetheringsett, Suffolk. Read on for a detailed overview of events!


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Exhibitions

The two free exhibitions in Oxford will run from October to December 2016. On Friday 14 October, Hakluyt and Geography in Oxford 1550–1650 will be launched at Christ Church, Hakluyt’s old college, with a symposium on Renaissance scientific instruments and a reception. In November, events at Christ Church will include workshops on scientific instruments from the Christ Church collection by Dr Allan Chapman and Dr Stephen Johnston.

On Friday 28 October, The World in a Book: Hakluyt and Renaissance Discovery will be launched with a lecture (5:30pm) by William Poole (New College), introducing the books which heralded an era of exploration, discovery, and imperial expansion. The lecture opens a display at the Bodleian’s Weston Library of the works and collections of Richard Hakluyt. One of the greatest treasures of the library, the Codex Mendoza, once owned by Hakluyt, will be included in this exhibition.


Commemorative Service

At 10.30 a.m. on Sunday 27 November, there will be a commemorative service in All Saints Church, Wetheringsett, Suffolk, IP14 5PP, Hakluyt’s parish, which will be led by the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, with the dedication of a stone plaque in memory of Richard Hakluyt. This will be followed by a buffet lunch in the Village Hall with a programme of music and readings. There will be an opportunity for small groups of Hakluyt Society members to visit the surviving part of Hakluyt’s former rectory.

Members who wish to be present at Wetheringsett are asked to contact the Society (office@hakluyt.com) as early as possible to assist the planning of the local organisers.


Conference

The two-day conference, Richard Hakluyt and the Renaissance Discovery of the World, takes place on 24 November at the Bodleian Library, and on 25 November at Christ Church, Oxford. Twenty renowned experts on Hakluyt and early modern travel and exploration have accepted an invitation to speak at the conference. The keynote lecture on 24 November, “No Land Unhabitable, Nor Sea Innavigable“: Hakluyt’s Argument from Design will be delivered by Professor Joyce Chaplin (Harvard University). At the conclusion of the event on 25 November, a free to attend public lecture, Voyages, Traffiques, Discoveries, will be given by the well-known broadcaster and historian Professor Michael Wood (more info below).


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Full line-up

Keynote speakers

Professor Joyce Chaplin – Harvard University

Professor Michael Wood – The University of Manchester

Speakers

Professor Michael Brennan – University of Leeds

Professor Daniel Carey (organiser) – NUI Galway

Dr Heather Dalton – University of Melbourne

Professor Nandini Das – University of Liverpool

Professor Mary Fuller – MIT

Dr John Hemming – Hakluyt Society

Professor Claire Jowitt (organiser) – University of East Anglia

Professor Bernhard Klein – University of Kent

Professor Karen Ordahl Kupperman – New York University

Professor Emerita Joyce Lorimer – Tri University

Professor Ladan Niayesh – Université Paris Diderot

Professor Michael Leroy Oberg – SUNY-Geneseo

Anthony Payne (organiser) – Hakluyt Society

Professor emerita Carla Rahn Phillips – University of Minnesota

Professor Joan-Pau Rubiés – Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Professor Emeritus David Harris Sacks – Reed College

Professor Sebastian Sobecki – University of Groningen

Dr Felicity Stout – The University of Sheffield

Professor Michiel van Groesen – Leiden University


Registration and Bursaries

Registration for this two-day event costs £100 per person or £60 for members of the Hakluyt Society and for postgraduates. The fee includes coffee/tea, lunches, and a reception at Christ Church on the Thursday evening. Space is limited and early registration is advised.

A number of fee-waiver postgraduate bursaries are available, due to an award from the Society for Renaissance Studies. If you wish to apply for a bursary, please contact Professor Claire Jowitt (c.jowitt@uea.ac.uk) by 31 August 2016.

All postgraduates who register to attend the conference are entitled to a 50% reduction in membership of the Hakluyt Society for one calendar year (to £15.00). To join using this offer, please see http://www.hakluyt.com/hak-soc-membership.htm and also send confirmation of your registration to attend the conference to office@hakluyt.com.

To book your place, click here.


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