Tag Archives: Age of Exploration

East is east and west is west

Navigators still faced the problem of not knowing how far east or west they were. Latitude is how far north or south you are. You can tell that with an astrolabe. Longitude is how far east or west.
It was a problem Amerigo Vespucci tried to solve. In 1502, he wrote: “…I learned [my longitude] … by the eclipses and conjunctions of the Moon with the planets…” He was trying to find longitude by observing the Moon’s and Mars’ positions in relation to the Earth. Not only was this an overly-complicated method, it had several drawbacks—mainly it only worked during a specific astronomical event.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longitude

I’d be a clod not to link Rudyard Kipling’s poem, which I quoted in the title above—http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_eastwest.htm

While we’re at it, here’s Bob Hope and Jane Russell in The Paleface, singing Buttons & Bows.

The Nocturnal

Magellan probably used this instrument to tell time at night, called the nocturnal. If you live in the northern hemisphere, you might notice that the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) and the northern constellations revolve around Polaris, the North Star. The nocturnal tells you what time it is based on a star’s position in the sky.

Like an astrolabe, you hold the nocturnal by a ring at the top. The round backplate shows the months and days. Sitting on that is another round plate with the hours of the night—this plate is for the particular star you’ll be sighting. Through the center of both plates is a hole where you sight the North Star. You put the arrow on today’s date (the drawing is on early October), point the pointer at your star and the pointer will show you the time (eight o’clock).

Here’s a website where you can download and make your own nocturnal.
http://www.binocrane.com/act105.html

If you have access to a 3D printer, you can download and print this nocturnal for free. https://outguy.blogspot.com/2013/05/3d-nocturnal-celestial-stardial-tjt56.html

https://books.google.com/books?id=waRlAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA311&dq=nocturnal+time+instrument&hl=en&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjwur2hzMToAhWGVc0KHcdnBDgQ6AEwAHoECAYQAg#v=onepage&q=nocturnal%20time%20instrument&f=false

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Why 18?

According to inventory records, the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan had 18 hourglasses on each of his ships during his circumnavigation of the globe in 1522. I’ve read this fact in more than one source, but no one tells us why eighteen. Multiple hourglasses would allow you to check one against another for accuracy, but 18 seems like a lot for that purpose. Were all 18 used at the same time? You need only one sandglass to cast a log—and that sandglass would count minutes, not a whole hour.

It seems Magellan used the hourglasses mainly for keeping track of time. But why did he need 18 of them?

If anyone can tell me I’ll draw you a picture.

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Travel brochure

You just know this idea was scribbled on the back of a napkin and handed directly to the unfortunate engraver, who tried to make some sense of it.

‘Lettera di Amerigo Vespucci delle isole nuovamente trovate in quattro suoi viaggi’
‘Amerigo Vespucci’s letter on the islands newly-discovered on his four voyages’

This language is Italian, not Latin—Vespucci was educated by his Humanist uncle. Humanism was a way of thinking that celebrated the achievements of people. That was a departure from the Christian Church’s view that all human achievement flows from God. Before Humanism, books and other publications were written in Latin—the language of the Roman Catholic Church. Humanists were the first to write in the vernacular—the language spoken in their own country.

I don’t know—Vespucci’s travel brochure needs something. I took the liberty of designing a new one with more pizzazz!

Amerigo

The next guy to visit the New World was Amerigo Vespucci (vess-POOCH-y) from Florence, Italy. Amerigo was a navigator, a mapmaker, a trader and astronomer. During one of his trips he calculated the circumference of the Earth (how big around at the Equator)—and was off by only 50 miles!

Amerigo Vespucci was also a writer and promoter. If Columbus didn’t realize how big the New World is, Vespucci surely did. He wrote pamphlets (short, easy-to-read) to tell people about the New World and all it had to offer. Vespucci promoted the New World to Europe. Promotion, gang. Amerigo Vespucci did such a good job of promoting the New World that a German mapmaker named the newly-discovered continents for Amerigo—North America and South America—and it caught on.

It’s a tradition to name continents in the feminine form—Asia; Africa; Europe (Europa to the people who live there); India; Australia; Antarctica. So the boy’s name Amerigo became the girl’s name America.

How do people promote nowadays? Writing a pamphlet was the way to go in Vespucci’s time. How would you promote something big that you wanted everybody to know about?

Next time Nonna makes big sauce, thank Columbus

The thing about Christopher Columbus: he was the European navigator who discovered the New World, but it’s not clear that he knew he discovered the New World. At least, it must have been nearly impossible to recognize how big North and South America are. It looks like he may not have gotten as far north as Florida.

Christopher Columbus made four trips to the New World. His voyages were the beginning of what we call the Age of Exploration. European traders started asking, “What if the New World has even more or better stuff than China?” The New World had never-seen-before fruit and vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, pineapples, peppers, pumpkins—and a new kind of poultry, the turkey. Chocolate and tobacco came from the New World. Europe wanted these new products as much as they’d wanted Chinese silk and spice. Remember that Columbus was sponsored by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Spain became a major world power through her new source of trade. The Ottoman Empire no longer held all the cards.

http://thecolumbuseffect.blogspot.com/p/short-term-effects.html
https://www.ducksters.com/biography/explorers/christopher_columbus.php

A really long trip and no egg roll

What just happened? Columbus thought he would get to China (the ‘Indies’) by traveling west. He was right, as far as his theory went. But Columbus had no idea there would be two king-sized continents—North and South America—standing in his way. He and his crew spent the next 5 months exploring the islands Cuba and Hispaniola before they went home to Spain.

Columbus was disappointed. He really wanted to reach China. He considered himself a failure for not accomplishing that goal. What he didn’t realize was that the Americas, with all their natural resources (gold, in particular), would become more valuable to Spain than China ever could be.

https://www.gilderlehrman.org/blog/columbus-lands-america-day-1492
http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/columbus.htm

Land, ho!

Even so, after two months the crew were unhappy and ready to turn around. Columbus said, “Okay, bambini. Give me two more days. If we don’t see land in two days, we’ll turn around and go home.” Luckily for Columbus, the next day they saw birds, and some branches floating around—the kind of stuff you see when you get close to land. Sure enough on October 12th, 1492 the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria bumped into the island of Guanahani—which Columbus called San Salvador. It’s part of a group of islands called the Bahamas, off of Florida.

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Are we there yet?

Columbus had a feeling his crew would start getting antsy, so he kept 2 logs. A captain’s log is a daily record of data: ship’s speeds, changes in course, weather and other news. In one secret log Columbus was honest—he wrote the actual distances they had come each day (as far as he could tell). In the second log, Columbus wrote that they hadn’t come very far at all. He added some potty stops they hadn’t taken. That’s the log he showed his crew. He wanted them to not be upset that the voyage was taking so long.

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Meanwhile, on the Atlantic Ocean…

Christopher Columbus’ crews are getting worried. If you’ve ever traveled to a new place, you know how they were feeling—”Are we there yet? How much longer?” Remember: those guys were probably okay with the idea that the Earth is round, but they didn’t know it for sure. After a couple of months, maybe they’re starting to think traveling west to reach the east isn’t such a hot idea after all.

Sailors in those days didn’t have an accurate way of knowing how far east or west they were. A compass can tell you which direction you’re traveling. An astrolabe will tell you how far north or south you are and what time it is. Casting a log will give you a rough idea of how far you’ve traveled. There was simply no way for Columbus and his crew to know exactly how far west they were.

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