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Harriot Manuscript (c.1608 - 1610) Publication Project
Title page of "chapter" in Harriot's hand
A page in Harriot's hand

The Harriot Manuscript Publication project (Cambridge, England) focuses on Thomas Harriot's (1560-1621) manuscript on shipbuilding and rigging- Arcticon (the name-sake of the IMRD's annual). Unfortunately, this manuscript is now lost and only chapters of Harriot's personal notes remain, buried in the archives. Harriot, a contemporary and friend of Sir Walter Raleigh, compiled an intensive work relevant to shipbuilding and/or navigation on the sea; including notes information on narrowing, rising, the use of dual midships frames, diagrams, offsets, and other calculations. It is the goal of this project to transcribe, synthesize, and publish these lost notes. The IMRD is the sole sponsor of this endeavor.

Co-Principal Investigators:
Pearce Paul Creasman
Gordon Marriott

Project Detail:
Thomas Harriot (1560-1621),
produced a massive amount of notes and papers in his lifetime but despite constant urges from colleagues and friends published little to none of his findings. Only in his will did he make arrangements for the organization and publication of his work. Accordingly, Harriot’s significance and reputation in the scientific and academic communities went vastly overlooked until the discovery of a large collection of his work in the 1970’s.

For the last 35 years, chapters of Harriot’s notes have come to light in the occasional symposium or journal article, but for the most part these focus on the mathematical or astronomical formula and theories he advanced or developed.

In the known collections of Harriot’s notes there are at least seven chapters directly relevant to shipbuilding or navigation on the sea. These notes include information on narrowing, rising, the use of dual midships frames, diagrams, offsets and other calculations.

Harriot's Nautical Background:
Around 1583 Harriot entered the service of Sir Walter Raleigh (infamous for his Roanoke Island experiment, c.1584). While a lecturer and navigational instructor of the seamen that were to accompany Raleigh on his exploits to the New World, Harriot wrote Arcticon. This opus was intended to be an instructional manual for the sailors, or similar to a modern textbook, from which he taught his courses. Unfortunately, no copies of this work are known to exist. Like many of Harriot's works it was never published and only upon his death did he arrange for publication (which likely did not occur).

In addition to being a brilliant mathematician and astronomer, Harriot himself spent some time on board sailing vessels:
-1585-1586, voyage with Raleigh from England to Virginia
-1585, a voyage from Plymouth on April 9th permitted him to calculate the ship's exact position from a comet overhead
-1586, June. Returned to England with Sir Francis Drake, arriving in July.

Harriot is also said to have compiled an elaborate account of the voyage to and/or from the New World, but, again, was unpublished and is now lost.

The Harriot Manuscript Publication Project aims to collect, transcribe, synthesize, and publish these lost notes. Links (forthcoming) on this page will be dedicated to one of the seven "chapters" mentioned above and will focus on the aspects of Harriot's notes practical to a study of nautical archaeology. In these forty pages he describes such topics as how to determine mast and yard dimensions based on keel length, names and lengths of ropes and other rigging elements, and the names and duties of officers.

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