Calculated Collaborations

in Tides of History

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2008 | ISBN: 9780226709321
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226709338 | DOI:
Calculated Collaborations

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It was local tide calculators, not elite theorists, who advanced the study of the tides in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, perfecting Daniel Bernoulli's equilibrium theory through their own extended observations. In fact, the tide tables in port cities such as Liverpool and Bristol were exceedingly, even exceptionally, accurate. This chapter analyzes William Whewell's close collaboration with those practitioners he termed “subordinate laborers,” a diverse group who worked alongside the scientific servicemen and scientific elite. In particular, it focuses on the contributions of expert calculators to large-scale geophysical research. Not only were these diligent men of numbers the first to bring the data to the natural philosophers, but they first applied the results to the construction of tables, and thus to the testing of theory. Their ingenuity with difficult calculations made them indispensable for Whewell's tidology. Though they began as calculators Whewell desired “to keep at work,” they actively contributed to his tidology: they tested his theories, advanced his methods, and suggested new avenues of research.

Keywords: tides; tide tables; William Whewell; subordinate laborers; expert calculators; geophysical research; tidology; Daniel Bernoulli; equilibrium theory

Chapter.  13537 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Environmental History

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