2 Pi in the service of the KingDecember 24, 2012 8:28 PM   Subscribe

Looking for suggestions regarding old books (Napoleonic era) on the subject of navigation and/or trigonometry

In the course of re-reading some of the early Aubrey/Maturin books, I noticed Captain Aubrey complaining about his difficulties in learning trigonometry and navigation from books and teachers, and there are a couple of passages where specific problems are mentioned.

Since I'm in the process of refreshing my rusty trig skills, I thought it would be somewhat interesting to do so with a book that's roughly contemporary with the late eighteenth century or very early nineteenth, but I wasn't sure where to start looking since the good captain seems to have forgotten actual book titles.
posted by honestcoyote to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Lunar Distance Navigation was common in that era. See the reference section of the page I linked to.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:38 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a maritime navigator and not a mathematician, the real foundation work for the discipline is Nathaniel Bowditch's American Practical Navigator, which was first published in 1802. Here is a reference page with several different formats of editions from that era. I don't know how practical it is for teaching general trigonometry, but it is the real deal. Even today, the primary navigation text carried on most every military and commercial ship in the world is still called "Bowditch". Finally, like I said, not a mathematician, but a study of navigation will have applications to astronomy as well, and most of the math is a limited type of spherical trigonometry that anyone who can follow instructions and do basic arithmetic can perform. Good luck with your journey!
posted by seasparrow at 9:15 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might also check out The Practical Surveyor, it's not navigation specifically but does cover spherical trigonometry from the early 1700's.

Full disclosure, my brother republished it.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 3:02 PM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

The following is from Midshipman Hornblower set in about 1794 as he prepares for his lieutenants exam.

During the next twenty-four hours Hornblower had not merely to try to read all through Norie's Epitome of Navigation again, and Clarke's Complete Handbook of Seamanship, but he had to see that his number one uniform was spick and span. It cost his spirit ration to prevail on the warrant cook to allow the gunroom attendant to heat a flatiron in the galley and iron out his neck handkerchief."

Horatio does reflect often of the joys of spherical trigonometry.
posted by mearls at 8:15 PM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the answers and suggestions. This was exactly what I needed to begin the search.
posted by honestcoyote at 7:51 PM on December 26, 2012

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