Long-distance longitude

Over a year ago I wrote a post ‘Sympathetic vibrations‘ that mentioned a 1688 pamphlet that included (as satire) a means of finding longitude by using a ‘Powder of Sympathy’. The idea was that this could be used to enduce an on-board dog to yelp at a pre-determined time at a known reference point, thus allowing a comparison with local time and, hence, a calculation of longitude. I noted there the fact that this story has often been presented as a genuine longitude scheme, probably because it is useful in getting across the basic point about time difference.

The other day I came across a genuine attempt to locate a longitudinal position that makes this time difference = longitude difference point just as forcefully. While it would today be discounted as pseudo-science, like the powder of sympathy, it relates to real events and a story that has a number of nice resonances with the History of the Board of Longitude project, despite being a few decades later: Arctic exploration, magnetism (or mesmerism), and longitude. [Read more]


About Rebekah Higgitt

Rebekah Higgitt completed a PhD in the history of science at Imperial College London in 2004 and did postdoctoral research at the University of Edinburgh. Since 2008 she has been Curator of History of Science and Technology at the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Her research and publications have mainly focused on scientific institutions, scientific biography, history of science and the relationship between science, government and the public in 19th-century Britain.
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