13 May, 2021 620 Engineering

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the search for Longitude while at sea. Following efforts by other maritime nations, the British Government passed the Longitude Act in 1714 to reward anyone who devised reliable means for ships to determine their longitude at sea. Mariners could already calculate how far they were north or south, the Latitude, using the Pole Star, but voyaging across the Atlantic to the Caribbean was much less predictable as navigators could not be sure how far east or west they were, a particular problem when heading for islands. It took fifty years of individual genius and collaboration in Britain and across Europe, among astronomers, clock makers, mathematicians and sailors, for the problem to be resolved.

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  • Rebekah Higgitt 2 episodes
    Principal Curator of Science at National Museums Scotland
  • Jim Bennett 11 episodes
    Keeper Emeritus at the Science Museum
  • Simon Schaffer 25 episodes
    Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge

Reading list

  • The Quest for Longitude
    William J. H. Andrewes (ed.) (Harvard University Press, 1996) Google Books →
  • Navigation: A Very Short Introduction
    Jim Bennett (Oxford University Press, 2017) Google Books →
  • Finding Longitude: How Ships, Clocks and Stars Helped Solve the Longitude Problem
    Richard Dunn and Rebekah Higgitt (Collins, 2014) Google Books →
  • Ships, Clocks and Stars: The Quest for Longitude
    Richard Dunn and Rebekah Higgitt (Harper Design, 2014) Google Books →
  • Navigational Enterprises in Europe and its Empires 1730-1850
    Richard Dunn and Rebekah Higgitt (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) Google Books →
  • Shaping the Day: A History of Timekeeping in England and Wales 1300-1800
    Paul Glennie and Nigel Thrift (Oxford University Press, 2009) Google Books →
  • Greenwich Time and the Discovery of Longitude
    Derek Howse (Oxford University Press, 1980) Google Books →
  • Nevil Maskelyne: The Seaman's Astronomer
    Derek Howse (Cambridge University Press, 1989) Google Books →
  • John Harrison: The Man who Found Longitude
    Humphrey Quill (John Baker, 1966) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: m000vyn6

Episode page: bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000vyn6

Auto-category: 623.8 (Navigation and Seamanship)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. In 1714, the British government passed the Longitude Act to reward anyone who devised reliable means for ships to determine their longitude at sea.