The entrance to the Department of History’s office in Sidney Smith Hall

"We have borrowed also from the French, and they I think from the Spaniards": National Lessons from Navigation History

Start Date and Time:

Friday, October 18, 2019, 3:00PM

End Date and Time:

Friday, October 18, 2019, 5:00PM


Prof. Margaret E. Schotte (History At York University)

Early modern Europeans were preoccupied with the problem of safely crossing the oceans. Such trips—for trade, war, and colonial expansion—could end in disaster if the navigator fell ill or relied on outdated maps and instruments on the treacherous seas. Each polity felt that their neighbours were more successful in creating new navigators. In this talk, Margaret Schotte will examine French, British, and Dutch records about training mariners, arguing that they shared a common set of strategies, which had originated in Iberia. And yet, in spite of this pan-European educational model, her analysis reveals unexpected variation in how mariners from different states approached particular tasks—from assessing the speed of their vessels to estimating their position. Where the Dutch chose logarithmic tables, the French turned to instruments. What effects did these choices have? At a time when maritime knowledge had significant geopolitical ramifications, we find that nautical science and practice, had distinct national characteristics.

Margaret E. Schotte is an associate professor of history at York University. Her new monograph, Sailing School: Navigating Science and Skill, 1550-1800 (Johns Hopkins UP, 2019), is a comparative study of the development and dissemination of Dutch, English, and French sailors’ navigational practices—in the classroom, on board ship, and across international borders. Schotte traces the impact of print culture on navigational instruction, and reconsiders the rise of mathematics in European intellectual and artisanal cultures. She has worked on French travel narratives and hydrography lessons in New France. Her next project examines the unexpected mathematical lessons that took place aboard a Dutch East India Co. ship during the Seven Years’ War.


  • Centre for the Study of France and the Francophone World (U of T)
  • Glendon College (York)

Contact Information

Rebecca Blanchard

Centre for the Study of France and the Francophone World


Room 108N, Munk School, 1 Devonshire Place view full map


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Etching of a Dutch trading ship by Wenceslaus Hollar