How the Scientific Revolution Got Its Feet Wet

Student manuscript (Wm. Spink, c.1697-1731)
Student manuscript (Wm. Spink, c.1697-1731) Image Credit: NMM

Schotte’s current book project is a comparative study of navigators in early modern Europe. Sailing School: Navigating Science and Skill, 1550-1800 investigates how early modern sailors developed mathematical and technical expertise in the age of exploration and the print revolution. Schotte’s monograph draws upon hundreds of dog-eared textbooks and salt-stained student manuscripts to recreate the experience of learning to sail, a complex apprenticeship that took place not only on board ship but in small classrooms in Europe’s port communities. Sailing School brings together the eccentric teachers, inventive entrepreneurs, ambitious politicos and a host of anonymous sailors to give us a new picture of what it meant to be an expert navigator at a time when knowledge of the natural world was undergoing dramatic shifts–and how these experts in turn contributed to the development of scientific practice in their local communities and beyond.

This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.


From Cosmographical Guides to Merchant Handbooks: The Evolution of Navigation Manuals, 1509-1800

This article sketches the development of the nautical handbook over the course of three centuries. By analyzing the intellectual origins and visual program of the pioneering Iberian publications that spread around the globe, Schotte traces the surprising origins of this technical genre back to  the medieval university.

This research was supported by a LA&PS Minor Research Grant and the John Carter Brown Library Fellows Programme.


Jean Deshayes — A Hydrographer’s Library, 1706

This bibliographic reconstruction of one of Canada’s earliest professional scientific libraries sheds new light on how sailors and surveyors learned to navigate the St. Laurence River and beyond.


Other research interests:

Globes, engineering, history of mathematics, history of education, diagrams and illustrations.

Schotte has also written on Samuel Pepys, Simon Stevin, and the Baron de Lahontan.