Looking for Longitude

BookLooking for Longitude

Looking for Longitude

A Cultural History

Eighteenth-Century Worlds, 12


January 1st, 2023





Why make a joke out of a niche and complex scientific problem? That is the question at the heart of this book, which unearths the rich and surprising history of trying to find longitude at sea in the eighteenth century. Not simply a history on water, this is the story of longitude on paper, of the discussions, satires, diagrams, engravings, novels, plays, poems and social anxieties that shaped how people understood longitude in William Hogarth’s London. We start from a figure in one of Hogarth’s prints – a lunatic incarcerated in the madhouse of A Rake’s Progress in 1735 – to unpick the visual, mental and social concerns which entwined around the national concern to find a solution to longitude. Why does longitude appear in novels, smutty stories, political critiques, copyright cases, religious tracts and dictionaries as much as in government papers? This sheds new light on the first government scientific funding body – the Board of Longitude – established to administer vast reward money for anyone who found a means of accurately measuring longitude at sea. Meet the cast of characters involved in the search for longitude, from famous novelists and artists to almost unknown pamphleteers and inventors, and see how their interactions informed the fate of longitude’s most famous pursuer, the clockmaker John Harrison.

Author Information

Dr Katy Barrett is an interdisciplinary curator, scholar and writer focusing on interactions between art and science. Currently she works as Deputy Curator of Art and Head of Interpretation at the Houses of Parliament. She has previously worked as Curator of Art Collections at the Science Museum, London, Curator of Art, pre-1800, at Royal Museums Greenwich, and has held various posts in national and university museums. She has higher degrees in History of Art and History of Science and is active on social media as @SpoonsonTrays.

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
List of Figures
Introduction – What was the problem with longitude? 
Part I – The Visual Problem
Chapter 1 – Naming and Mapping
Chapter 2 – Paper Instruments
Part II – The Mental Problem
Chapter 3 - Proposing or Projecting?
Chapter 4 - Madness or Genius?
Part III – The Social Problem
Chapter 5 – Polite or impolite science?
Chapter 6 - A cultural instrument
Conclusion – The longitude of London