A Fast-Track to Expertise? Early Modern Navigators Debate Theory and Practice

Margaret Schotte

University of Toronto

Wednesday, February 5, 2020 - 2:00pm

Victoria College, Room 323
73 Queen's Park Crescent
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1K7 Canada

How much time at sea did an early modern sailor require to become an expert navigator? During the 17th century, as Europeans embarked on increasing numbers of transoceanic voyages, the need for such experts grew dramatically. Maritime administrators, naval bureaucrats, and entrepreneurial teachers all proposed different approaches for mastering the theory behind celestial navigation. But how effective was this training? The answer turns out to vary by region, and to be shaped not only by political and geographical factors, but also intellectual ones. Drawing upon Sailing School, her new comparative history of navigational training, Margaret Schotte will highlight the role of educators, textbook authors and publishers, in the perpetual debate about how best to develop technical skills. Ultimately, it takes a hybrid approach — in the classroom and on board ship — to develop expertise in the applied science of navigation.
 
Margaret E. Schotte is an associate professor of history at York University. Her work brings together early modern history of science and the history of the book. Her new monograph, Sailing School: Navigating Science and Skill, 1550-1800 (Johns Hopkins UP, 2019), is a comparative study of the development and dissemination of Dutch, English, and French sailors’ navigational practices—in the classroom, on board ship, and across international borders. This book traces the impact of print culture on navigational instruction, and reconsiders the rise of mathematics in European intellectual and artisanal cultures. She holds a B.A. from Harvard University, an M.A. from the University of Toronto, and a Ph.D. from Princeton University. Recent articles focus on early modern questionnaires, ship’s instruments, and navigation as “big science.”