PhD thesis Navigation on Wood

Promotor Karel Davids of the VU summarising the past seven years (picture J. van der Steen).
Figure 1: Promotor Karel Davids of the VU summarising the past seven years (picture J. van der Steen).
[See below to order a copy]

On 9 May 2018, I graduated on my research of instruments for celestial navigation at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. I started this research some 17 years ago, when I wanted to know which instrument(s) were used prior to the invention of the octant. After having published several articles on the topic I was allowed to start my PhD research at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam in 2012. Now my PhD thesis is ready and printed in a limited edition of 300 copies:

N. de Hilster, Navigation on Wood, Wooden Navigational Instruments 1590-1731: An analysis of early modern western instruments for celestial navigation, their origins, mathematical concepts and accuracies., (PhD thesis, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, May 2018).

In my thesis I explore the relationship between the instruments, their common ancestors, their construction, and performance of instruments in the period from 1590 to 1731. It was in 1590 when the Englishman Thomas Hood created his cross-staff, the first staff type navigational instrument that used the shadow of an attached vane to cast a shadow on one of its scales. His method of shadow casting was soon improved by countryman Thomas Harriot. Although Harriot's way of shadow casting resulted in a great improvement in the quality of the observations, by almost an order of magnitude, both methods of shadow casting remained into use well into the nineteenth century. Examples of instruments using Hood's shadow casting method were the Davis quadrant and the cross-bow quadrant, while examples using Harriot's method were the hoekboog and demi-cross.

The PhD thesis is a hardcover and comes with dust cover.
Figure 2: The PhD thesis is a hardcover and comes with dust cover.
The thesis is printed in a limited edition of 300 copies, hardcover, linen backed, with full colour dust cover. It has 815 pages with 324 figures, 47 tables, eight appendices (with additional figures and tables), and four indexes. The first year after my graduation the thesis will be available in print only, after that year as a download through the university's web site as well. Currently only the cover, titlepage, table of contents, and summary are digitally available.

The thesis has been made possible thanks to the generous donations by the following funds:Ordering a copy of Navigation on Wood
A copy of my thesis can be ordered by clicking here.

Together the funds financed approximately half of the printing costs, by which the thesis is now available for a modest 25 euro. Shipping will add another 7 euro for the Netherlands, 13 euro for western Europe, 19 euro for the rest of Europe, 25 euro for the rest of the world.


As expected no work can be made without errors. This section lists the errors found so far:

- p.377, fig.193: "demi-cross" should read "demi-quadrant"

If you have any questions and/or remarks please let me know.

Celestial Navigation Coastal Navigation Distance measurement
1580s Mariner's astrolabe 1590 Hood's cross-staff 1618 Demi-cross 1623 hoekboog 1660 spiegelboog 1661 Kronan cross-staff 1720 Hasebroek cross-staff 1734 Davis quadrant Early 19th c. ebony octant Late 19th c brass octant 1941 U.S. Navy quintant Hirado navigation set PhD thesis