June 15, 2021

Nicholas Crane: Latitude (1739)

From the tides to lightning, the movement of the planets to the workings of the human body, the Enlightenment was an age of problem solving. In this episode we head back to 1739 to talk about efforts to combat one of these great puzzles: calculating the precise measurement of a degree of latitude.

Trying to solve this problem were the members of the very first international scientific expedition – an enterprise planned by the Académie des Sciences) in Paris. The expedition’s destination was the little-known equatorial region of South America, around the location of modern-day Ecuador.

Today’s guest Nicholas Crane takes us back to join this expedition at a crucial moment. Nicholas Crane is a writer, broadcaster and adventurer. He has presented the BAFA winning BBC show, Coast, as well as many others.

Crane’s new book, Latitude, tells the broader story of the history we engage with in this episode. To be in with a chance of winning a copy of Latitude, make sure you sign up to our newsletter list at our website: tttpodcast.com.

Show notes

Scene One: April 17, 1739. peak of Sinasaguan: Four years after leaving Europe, survey is almost complete, when mountaintop camp is struck by terrible storm that smashes tents. Local helpers abandon the scientists. All seems lost. Yet the scientists persevere and descend the mountain with their observations.

Scene Two: May 20 1739. Ingapirca. During a bout of bad weather on the peak of  Bueran, La Condamine seizes opportunity to ride across valley and complete first detailed survey of an Inca site. It is one of a long list of episodes that show how the scientists spread their interest beyond geodesy.

Scene Three: August 29, 1739. Cuenca. The murder in a fiesta bullring of the expedition’s surgeon. Just as the science was nearing completion, a tragedy intervenes.

Memento: La Condamine's quadrant.


Presenter: Peter Moore

Guest: Nicholas Crane

Production: Maria Nolan

Podcast partner: Colorgraph

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