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Expert Records: Nautical Logbooks from Columbus to Cook


Situating the early modern nautical logbook and its northern European users within the histories of information, scientific observation, and expertise, this survey highlights the interdependence of utility and credibility on the high seas and the pitfalls of interdisciplinarity. Although navigators developed the logbook with practical concerns in mind, toward the close of the seventeenth century, administrators in England, France, and the Netherlands co-opted it for more idealized ends. Their thirst for detail sparked resistance from practitioners, some of whom began to subvert the very shipboard routines that had once authenticated the daily reports. Despite the logbook's eventual ubiquity, I argue that it ultimately failed as an epistemic tool and thus serves as a suggestive counterexample to the prevailing progressive histories of observation.

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