Those of you who have been following this blog from the beginning (and thanks for doing so) will know that, not only was I new to writing, but I was new to the maritime world and the East Indies. The one previous interest I brought to the party which is the biography of Captain Thomas Bowrey was a love of the Early Modern period, especially in London. I have learned a great deal since then and have, certainly, gained new interests.
I was reminded of one as I waited in the queue at the British Library on Saturday morning. It is always a place for interesting conversations – those there for the opening of the library are almost always those with their own personal obsessions. The small group of us this Saturday included an academic from America over here for the Leeds Libraries’ 250th anniversary conference. His particular area of interest is the dissemination of knowledge in the Early Modern world. Regular followers will know that one of the numerous books I have found over the passed few years was Anna Winterbottom’s Hybrid Knowledge in the Early East India Company World. I have also read a great deal about pirates of the period. My current reading is Anton Gill’s The Devil’s Mariner, a biography of William Dampier.
It is clear from my research how connected the Early Modern world was. The Royal Society was founded in 1660 by a group of people hungry for knowledge of the world and this hunger spread through much of society at the time. In the days before social media, knowledge was still spread through a network of personal contacts – an Early Modern six degrees of separation. The same names occur time and again through Bowrey’s story. His tangled network included Bodleian Librarian Thomas Hyde, reformed pirate William Dampier, Daniel Defoe, Hans Sloane, Edward Barlow, Robert Knox and many more hidden in Bowrey’s papers and elsewhere whose names are no longer remembered.
Was this knowledge always true? No, fake news is nothing new. Thomas Hyde was obsessed with obtaining the hand of a merman and another contemporary, Isaac Newton, spent much of his life carrying experiments in alchemy. Was the search always legal? No, William Dampier thought nothing of joining a pirate crew as his means of collecting knowledge of the world. It seems that there is nothing new in this world.