chapter  3
16 Pages

Towards a Scientific Navy

Institutional Identity and Spain’s Eighteenth-Century Navy
WithCatherine Scheybeler

This chapter, while acknowledging a more general symbiosis between ‘Enlightenment science’ and navies in the eighteenth century, analyses the manner in which this symbiosis affected the development of the Spanish navy’s institutional identity becoming increasingly central to it over the course of the century. At the beginning, Spanish naval officers were expected to have very little ‘scientific’ knowledge as even the rudiments of astronomical navigation were the preserve of the pilots but, as global competition between European maritime states intensified with ‘science’ becoming an area of competition in itself as well as denoting levels of modernity and becoming the justification for imperial ventures, the ‘scientific’ practices of naval officers became increasingly important so that naval officers by the end of the century were expected to be well-versed in such ‘scientific’ fields as astronomy, naval construction, and hydrography. This transition, however, was complicated by a variety of domestic and international factors which drove Spain’s naval officers to promote, with the support of the Spanish state, the idea of the navy in the eighteenth century as primarily a ‘scientific’ institution, a powerful influence which has lasted to the present.