Article ID: CBB878342734

D.176: Sextants, Numbers, and the Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty (2017)


In the 1830s and 1840s, the Hydrographic Office of the British Admiralty developed and oversaw one of the major state-run surveying projects of the nineteenth century. This involved a range of instruments whose circulation was increasingly regulated. Using extant museum collections and the correspondence of those involved, this article explores how such objects can be used to discuss both bureaucratic organization at a time of expanding government and the complex issues of sociability involved in hydrographic surveying. Surveying officers worked in a context in which the propriety of property on public service was a pervasive question. Instruments might be given as gifts between officers, appropriated as recompense, absorbed as state property, and disputed between friends. The ownership, provision, and treatment of instruments in particular could be used to demonstrate an officer’s peculiar zeal or institutional neglect. To those outside the ship, what was understood as over-instrumentation became amusing spectacle. On board, their use was part of a deeply hierarchical order of work in regions of colonial and mercantile importance. In examining the relationships around these instruments of survey, the paper proposes a richer understanding of the material culture of hydrography in the early nineteenth century.

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Authors & Contributors
Bennett, Jim
Mörzer Bruyns, Willem F. J.
Ruiz-Castell, Pedro
Broughton, Peter
Barany, Michael J.
Morar, Florin-Stefan
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society
Spontaneous Generations
British Journal for the History of Science
Mariner's Mirror
Victorian Studies
The University of North Carolina Press
University of Chicago Press
Johns Hopkins University Press
University of California, Davis
Scientific apparatus and instruments
Material culture
Science and government
Smyth, Charles Piazzi
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm von
Hopkins, Gerard Manley
Clemens, Samuel Langhorne
Conté, Nicolas-Jacques
Napoleon I, Emperor of France
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
20th century, early
20th century
17th century
Great Britain
United States
Great Britain. Royal Navy
National Maritime Museum (Great Britain)
United States. Department of Agriculture
United States. Geological Survey
United States Navy
British East India Company

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