According to the entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction – Hornblower in Space – both sea fiction and science fiction share an affinity for the thrill of discovery and wonder. This article contains many examples of science fiction written with a nautical theme. It is a fun and informative read. (Point of transparency – I read both genres with equal enjoyment. In fact, the first books I ever bought were the beginning volumes of the Hornblower series and some works by Robert Heinlein. The Heinleins are gone, but the Hornblower paperbacks still grace my bookshelves in a place of honor. They are now decaying , consumed by slow fire, but they still resonate with me over fifty years later.)
Archive for June, 2016
Embedded within the Founders Online, a project that so far has produced over 175,000 letters written to and from six of America’s Founding Fathers, are over 200 letters that mention/discuss the Royal Navy; over 400 mention the British navy. Most concern the Revolutionary War. Numerous mentions are also recorded for the French navy. One can also search for individuals; for example “Admiral Howe” (and do use the quotation marks around names or phrases) brings up 39 letters mentioning him. But since search engines tend to be literal minded, entering “Viscount Howe” produces additional references. And even searches for position titles such as “First Lord of the Admiralty” produces hits. This site obviously does not produce every single letter concerning the Royal Navy, but a sedulous search will indeed reveal some valuable source material all found in one place.
There are 318 logbooks of Royal Navy ships available online, transcribed. These are the products of “…University of Oxford’s Zooniverse project, [that] have worked with large numbers of online volunteers at Old Weather to produce transcriptions of historical weather data and naval events from the logbooks of 318 Royal Navy ships of the World War 1-era.” Copious additional amounts of data on each ship are provided as well.
This six-ship squadron sailed around the world between 1838 and 1842 collecting innumerable artifacts and measurements. A wonderful overview of this voyage is by Nathaniel Philbrick. (He wrote the Sea of Glory that deals with the U.S. Ex Ex. I recommend it most highly.)
Primary source material abounds:
Narrative texts, scientific texts, and atlases are fully accessible online.
Cultural artifacts have their own separate database.
The commander of this record-breaking endeavor was Charles Wilkes; here is his Autobiography of Rear Admiral Charles Wilkes, U.S. Navy, 1798-1877.
An officer in the expedition, George Colvocoresses published Four years in the government exploring expedition; commanded by Captain Charles Wilkes….
At Antarctic Exploration & Discovery reside well over 100 volumes, the vast majority in English, containing journals, diaries, photos, and sketches of various explorations of this forbidding continent. Read Joseph Hooker’s The botany of the Antarctic voyage of H.M. discovery ships Erebus and Terror in the Years 1839-1843 :under the command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross; peruse British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-9, under the command of Sir E.H. Shackleton, c.v.o. Reports on the scientific investigations …; and leaf through From Edinburgh to the Antarctic. An artist’s notes and sketches during the Dundee Antarctic Expedition of 1892-93.
The Space Shuttle Challenger, the lunar module Challenger, and the Glomar Challenger (on which I had the pleasure of working) are named after H M S Challenger, the vessel that was the platform for the first oceanographic expedition. Taking almost four years (December 1872 to May 1876) and logging over 68,000 miles, this ship and her crew circumnavigated the world taking samples from over three hundred locations (follow the journey here). A massive fifty volume reports series was eventually published; it took almost two decades to print it all. A linked index to all the reports as well as additional publications pertaining to the epic voyage are available. Three very readable; i.e., not scientific, works are The log letters of the “Challenger” (1876), The Cruise of H.M.S. Challenger (1878) and the profusely illustrated Preliminary Account: The Atlantic, Vol. I and Vol II (1878) that features woodcuts of the ships’ working laboratories. Please look at the July 31, 1875 edition of the Pacific commercial advertiser (Honolulu) for some fascinating information on the voyage.
May 31 – June 1, 1916 witnessed Great Britain’s Grand Fleet and Germany’s High Seas Fleet engage in a massive sea fight. Technically, Germany was the victor, but the Kaiser was so fearful of another such “victory” that the fleet never again set sail, while the British fleet ruled the waves. Listen to Lord West (former First Sea Lord) discuss this battle; a brief summation of the battle is here
There are some very important sources available for this event:
The Battle of Jutland (1920. Uses extensive quotes from official sources.)
The battle of Jutland, 31 May-1 June 1916 .. (1920. This is an important publication from the (U.S.) Naval War College as it contains a significant extract from The Two White Nations, a German language book on Jutland as well as accounts by Admirals Jellicoe and Scheer.)
The History of the Great War. Based on Official Documents. Naval Operations, Volume III (1920. A major work by Julian Corbett)
Jutland. (U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence. Monthly Information Bulletin, March 1924. Labeled as “Supplement no. 1”)
Papers of Admiral Jellicoe (Dozens of volumes made available digitally. Housed at the British Library’s Manuscript Division.)
When you are doing research, why are dissertations so important? Especially in history, dissertations are supposed to make unique and original contributions to the field, exploring topics never investigated before. And with enhanced technological innovations in information retrieval and data analysis, much that could not have been researched before can now be examined. These types of work will have exhaustively consulted both primary and secondary sources, blazing the trail for succeeding scholars. So you have a ready-made reference list of many authors, writings, plans, manuscripts, etc.
For those interested in British naval history, N A M Rodger stands as one of the very best researchers in the field. His works are meticulous in their research, and their bibliographies (with his comments) are goldmines of information. Being as he was a professor at the University of Exeter where a PhD in Maritime History is offered, I wondered what doctoral theses were produced there on the Royal Navy. Would you believe fifty, all of them available online for free?
Another of my favorite non-fiction authors in Andrew Lambert, a professor at King’s College, London. Going to their institutional repository will also yield dissertations on naval topics, again freely available for perusal.
Another repository for dissertations is sponsored by the British Library – EThos. Here are listed over 400,000 dissertations with 160,000 freely available online. A simple search of “Royal Navy” pulls up about 100 accessible dissertations.
700,000 online dissertations from 600 European institutions can be searched through Dart-Europe
Tens of thousands of online dissertations from United States and Canadian universities are available courtesy of PQDT Open.