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To Master the Boundless SeaThe U.S. Navy, the Marine Environment, and the Cartography of Empire$
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Jason W. Smith

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469640440

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469640440.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.northcarolina.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of North Carolina Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NCSO for personal use.date: 21 September 2021

The Common Highway

The Common Highway

(p.74) 3 The Common Highway
To Master the Boundless Sea

Jason W. Smith

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter examines the hydrographic work of the U.S. Naval Observatory and Hydrographical Office under the leadership of Lieutenant Matthew Fontaine Maury, 1842-1861, a tenure in which Maury brought the Navy to the forefront of antebellum American applied and theoretical science and embarked upon revolutionary new cartographic conventions in his Wind and Current Charts series. Maury pushed and considerably expanded the boundaries of the hydrographic chart to include wind speed, ocean temperature, ship tracks, and whales, among other things, creating a partnership with American and foreign mariners to collect and systematize data about the marine environment thereby significantly shortening the length of voyages under sail, and breaking down the rule-of-thumb navigational methods deeply-rooted in maritime culture. With Maury’s publication of The Physical Geography of the Sea in 1855, he became the intellectual and political rival and sometime enemy of key leaders in the American civilian scientific community. Nevertheless, this chapter argues that at a time when the U.S. Navy, the American maritime community, and civilian science were diverging, Maury was just the sort of figure who could bridge increasingly widening intellectual, cultural, and institutional gaps between them.

Keywords:   Matthew Fontaine Maury, Naval Observatory, Whales, Wind and Current Charts, Scientific rivalry

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