Monday, January 2, 2012

91. Ship’s Chronometer from HMS Beagle (England, 1800-1850)

Modern times.
These last few podcasts have to bring us up to date in our history of the world, and to some extent they’re a bit of a joke. We all know already, and what could MacGregor possibly say? And yet he makes some interesting points, beginning with something he calls “the long 19th century”—that is, from the French Revolution to World War I. I love that, because all the popular operas are from that period, and from Europe; they fit into that little scooch. Lots of operas before and after, but the ones that are easy to sell are pieces from this "long-19th-century."

This podcast is about time: labelling it, controlling it, channeling it, thinking about and positioning it. Because it’s not just the accurate ship chronometer, which allowed the British Navy (and eventually, once they admitted the British were cooler than they were, the French) to figure out longitude—this particular chronometer is (one of 22, they had extras for the sake of accuracy and backup) from the ship that took Darwin to the Galapagos for the research that eventually became The Origin of Species—blowing the hoo-hah off the Christian church’s old “God created the universe in a week in 4004 B.C.” silliness. The invention of the modern concept of time, a non-traditional Western concept of time, in which time is for all practical purposes infinite—stretching back into darkness, forward into darkness.

MacGregor tends to slight my part of the world. So here's a photo of another ship's chronometer, this one from Vancouver's voyage on the H.M.S. Discovery, which brought English speakers to a certain Sound (named for Vancouver's first mate, Peter Puget) in 1793. Both chronometers are in the British Museum's room of clocks:

Curiously, we’re also learning to tame space, at the same time as we learn to control time...the other big reason to develop new ways of organizing time, in the 19th century, was railroad schedules. That’s how they get the clocks unified across a small area like Britain, and presumably time zones in the US followed suit. New technologies breed more new technologies: ships and trains breed new ways of living and thinking, and with them new ways of measuring, and with that more new ways. Modern times equals new ways.

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