English 298 Presentation Paper

Alyssa Resurreccion

Dr. Benedict

English 298

April 16, 2017

Exploring the World Through the Compass

Imagine that you are about to go on a week-long hike, either through the forest or in the mountains, what would you pack in your bag? What comes to mind is possibly a canteen, a sleeping bag, or even a map. While all of these item are essential to a hike, most people do not think to pack one of the most essential tools for the trek. The item I am referring to is the compass, one of the most important inventions in history. The compass is so rarely thought of when one thinks or revolutionary inventions.

The first book that I requested from MASC was “Navigation Spiritualiz’d Or, A New Compass for Seamen” I thought this would be about the actual compass, but it was not. When I first read it, I could not understand what it was saying. After talking to Dr. Benedict, she suggested that it was a metaphorical representation of the compass. In the Observation section of the chapter, it describes the ocean as vast and not to be founded by man. Then, in the Application section, the Heart of Man naturally abounds with monstrous lusts and abominations. Going deeper, one can suggest that navigating the sea can be compared to trying to navigate life. The compass wasn’t just a tool one can physically hold in their hand, but a general concept of trying to get through life.

Its invention has changed cultures all over the world, but not necessarily all in a good way. The aftereffect allowed different cultures to meet and connect, but it also led to environmental and cultural devastation. First I will talk about the ancient ways of navigation and exploration before a form of the compass came along, then about the hopes it helped to create and the lives it helped destroy, and finally about how it helps to reveal part of the human nature.

In the old days, before the compass, travelling was very limited, especially on the seas. Whenever captains needed to sail somewhere, they stayed in sight of land because if they strayed off their path there was not a reliable way to find their way back and risked getting lost at sea. Then celestial navigation was invented. For those who may not know, celestial navigation is navigating by using the stars and constellations as reference points, with even John Harrison inventing the marine chronometer which allowed for seamen to calculate longitude using celestial navigation (Draper). The major downside to these methods is that you always required a clear day, as clouds or fog could severely limit your range of sight, and make it impossible to view the stars or see the physical landmarks that you used to navigate. This could quickly become dangerous as you could sail into uncharted waters and easily get lost. This way of navigating quickly became obsolete with the arrival of the compass.

While the Chinese are usually credited with the invention of the compass, the Encyclopedia of World Trade: From Ancient Times to the Present states that it was, in fact, Muslims that invented the compass during the Middle Ages (Northrup). Although, I cannot locate anywhere else that claims this. Unlike today’s compasses, the Chinese did not use a needle. Instead, they used lodestone, a naturally magnetized mineral that always pointed north. By the eighth century, they were using needles (Northrup). Then came the way that I referred to as the ‘cup and cork’ method. All you need is a bowl of water, a magnetized needle, and a cork. You take the needle and stick it through the cork so that the needle is parallel with the ground, then put the cork in the water. The needle will effortlessly swing to the north direction. Then, magnetized were being set in a housing and on a pivot. I cannot find a date for when this was, but a patent I found for an improvement for a mariners compass was in 1875.

The invention of the compass brought hope to the people of its time. The compass opened up brand new ways of navigating and exploring, mostly maritime exploration. Now that celestial bodies or islands were no longer needed, voyages could be taken longer and farther out. More exploration allowed for the discovery of new lands, specifically the Americas by Christopher Columbus. Christopher Columbus started the trade of spices, technology, and animals between the people of europe and those of the Americas. Each culture started to learn about each other and gain riches, especially the monarchy. It allowed better living conditions for those in europe along with a better standard of living.

While the trading originally brought prosperity to both parties, this quickly changed for the worse for one of the parties involved. Not surprisingly, it was the natives. The natives were quickly colonized by the europeans and subsequently enslaved. Forests and land were quickly cleared to make way for plantations, of which were worked by forced labor. Prince Henry the Navigator also used the compass during his maritime expeditions. He and his team were the first europeans to sail around the African continent (Northrup). His accomplishments ultimately led the way for the enslavement of Africans.

While the invention of the compass did vastly improve navigation and the lives of the inventors, it seemed to do the exact opposite of those on the other side. While the inventors prospered, those who met them were subjugated to awful treatment and lived in poverty. While many lives were saved from its invention, that should not overshadow the overwhelming loss of life that it helped accomplish. Nevertheless, the compass is one of the most prominent inventions in history despite the fact that many people may not know that.


Works Cited

Draper, Charles S. “Navigtion-From Canoes to Spaceships.” (n.d.): n. pag. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 04

Apr. 2017.

Northrup, Cynthia Clark. Encyclopedia of World Trade: From Ancient times to the Present. Armonk,

NY: Sharpe Reference, 2005. 229-31. Print.


Stage One: Technological Materiality

Components of a compass:

  • Needle (steel manufacturer to compass manufacturer)

The needle of the compass is generally made out of steel (mostly iron with very little carbon). The steel is shaped into small rolls then cut into needle-length ( The end of the needle that points north is painted red and the south end is painted white. A major concern is the environmental impact that comes with the steel needle. Part of the production of steel is coke, a fuel generally made from coal. When coke is made, it can release toxins into the atmosphere. Such toxins from a coke oven can include crude light oil, naphthalene, sulfur, coke, coke oven gas, and ammonium compounds ( While there are methods to trap these gasses, they are not one-hundred percent and some will leak out into the atmosphere, polluting the air we breathe.

  • Dial
  • Housing

Today, the housing that encompasses the needle is made of liquid Polymethyl methacrylate, a strong plastic, that has been molded into the housing.

  • Glass Covers

A lot of compasses have glass covers to them. I believe this is to protect the needle from less stress, such as wind, shield it from getting dirty, such as dirt, and to prevent rusting.


Older versions of the compass were quite simple. All that was needed was a magnetized needle, a bowl of water, and a cork. The needle just needed to be put in the cork so that it was laying parallel to the ground and have the cork placed in the bowl of water, then the needle would spin and point north.


Compasses should be used away from ferrous (having iron) metals and electrical fields because it can distort a compasses readings (

4-11-17 Free-Write 2 w/ Consider the Fork

When you think of technology, what do you think of? What comes to mind is most likely the cell phone in your back pocket or possibly the fridge that keeps your food from spoiling. People generally see technology as electronics and computers that have only sprung up recently in human history, but that is not the case. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary describes technology as “a capability given by the practical application of knowledge,” (citation). This means that almost anything and everything invented can be considered technology in some way.

One of the most important inventions in history is the compass-a technology that is so rarely thought of when one thinks of revolutionary inventions.



What does your technology tell us about human nature?

The compass’ main use in society and history is for navigation, mainly maritime navigation. It was used to explore the world and used in an attempt to find more land. That can tell us that humans are always trying to gain more than what they already had.



  1. How it feels using a microfilm machine

I actually really enjoyed using the microfilm machines. I really like microscopes, so when I got to clarify and zoom in on the film it was pretty fun. I enjoyed threading the film through the machine, but I did not like rethreading it because it took a while since my machine was broken. When I use a microfilm machine, it feels like I am using an old Dell computer, like the one my family used to have when I was a child. It really reminded me of the ‘90s for some reason.


  1. The main thing I think people who use this machine should have is patience. It takes a little bit of time to actually hunt down a film that is of actual use to you. It takes time to thread the film and scroll through it, but if the film is of no use to you then you wasted your time. Now, we have internet and Google and JSTOR, so one can just type into the box and get thousands of results back that best match their search. One can even narrow the search from just journal articles to even the size of a file.

Also, people need to be delicate with the films and the machines. If one is too rough with the film, they could tear it or wipe away some of the pictures on the film. If one is too harsh to the machine, then that machine can break and since the machines are so old they might not get replaced. A steady hand is also needed to use it.


  1. Gender relations

Throughout history, the compass has been predominantly used by men. This certainly does not mean that women were incapable of using this device, but more so that they never even got the chance. Although, in the past, it’s possible that men, and possibly some women, were like, “A women could never learn to use this piece of sophisticated technology!” Compasses are used by explorers, pilots, captains, etc., positions really only allowed to be held by men until recently in human history. Now, as women are taking up more roles, the gender division is slowly going away.


  1. Describe your technology in a way that we do not usually think of.

This piece of technology, if built the slightest bit off, can lead many astray. It can lead those to death and miscalculations. If one does not know how to use it, then mistakes with terrible consequences could be waiting for them.


  1. If your technology disappeared/ became obsolete/ stopped working

If the compass disappeared , then several people are either going to get lost and possibly even die. Explorers who are hiking the himalayas are going to get lost. Boats and planes would get lost at sea or in the sky, respectively, since compasses are used to know where you are going. Boats would never make it to port and airplanes wouldn’t make it their destinations. If they suddenly stopped working, panic could set it for those on the airplanes or boats, as seen in movies. For example, when a boat sails into the Bermuda Triangle and their technology goes haywire, specifically the compass needle continuously turning, the crew tend to panic and the ship crashes.


  1. If your technology is too present in the world

If the compass became to prevalent, then it could be an issue. If they decided to install compasses on every children’s toy bike, then that would go too far since it’s a waste of money and resources because a five-year-old isn’t going to use it or even know how to. Compasses are already installed in most, if not all, planes and ships.


  1. Either better or worse, different patents on how your technology could have looked

In one patent, there was a design that had the needle installed differently than how we do today. This older patent’s needle would go slightly off-course whenever it was bumped hard enough (like being veered whenever a wave hit the boat). This could have been disastrous since compasses were relied on to point in the north direction. If this version were used today, this meant that several boats and/or planes would be lost since they based the way they went off of the compass’ needle.


  1. People’s attitudes tend to be…but they should be worried about…

People tend to think of the compass as an important invention that changed the way the world interacted with each other. That it opened the doors for more successful trading and relations-building.

But what about all the lost compasses out there. I mean, how many have been lost at sea or on land, ones that are polluting our world? Compasses include glass in their design, a lot anyway, so what happens to the glass that is lost. It’s possible that animals in the forest have stepped on these shards and died.


  1. The most interesting thing about your technology

– In one encyclopedia, it mentions that Muslims were the first to develop the compass. This is the only space that I have located where it claims this, and I cannot anywhere else that says this.

– Haywire compasses may not be the reason for lost ships and planes. I read on one site that the compass points to the “absolute north” but not the “true north”. This discrepancy is apparently so little that.


  1. Tone your paper should take, fun/light, deep/serious, etc.

I want my paper to have a lighter tone, not a dark, mysterious one. I want it to be mainly informative, but not completely boring.


  1. What feeling do you want the reader to have when they finish your essay

I just want the reader to be informed more about the compass. I want them coming out as if they have learned something new. I don’t want them to feel as if they just wasted part of their life on my essay.


  1. The main idea of the paper

That the compass is a supercool invention. That it contributed to the world.


Patents (3-21-17)

Magnetic compass (;

This patent was granted on January 31, 1967 to Edward J Sampson for the design of a compass to be used with a vehicle. It only offers two pictures, but I was surprised at how early this concept arose. I mean, cars were only invented in the early 20th century. I guess it’s not that surprising because compasses were already used in ships, so the jump to help navigate in cars wouldn’t be that big.

magentic compass


Imrovement in mariners compass (;

This patent was granted on June 1, 1875 and starts with this line, “Be it known that I, DAVID BAKER, of Boston, in the county of Suffolk and State of Massachusetts, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Mariners Oompasses.” I’m not sure in the spelling errors within the patent are because of Google or the original writer of the patent. His improvement to the compass is that he changed the layout of the axis, since the previous version had misaligned the mark so the ship would not be going the correct way. This improvement would help keep the crew, passengers, and/or cargo safe from getting lost. No doubt this small change in the design would help save countless lives.

improvement in mariner's compass.PNG

Digital compass with mutiple sensing and reporting capability (;

This patent was granted on June 5, 2001, so quite recently. While not exactly a change to the compass itself, this design allows for so much more. The patent lists all the details of the design, including what it’s made out of. This new technology can include an inclinometer, an altimeter, an accelerometer, and even a barometer! Since altitude and atmospheric pressure can be determined, it can help hikers and such find there way around.

Digital compass.PNG

MASC Readings (3-23-17)

The first book I requested, and read, was “Navigation Spiritualiz’d or, A new compass for seamen…” I thought this would be about the actual compass, but it was not. When I first read it, I could not understand what it was saying. After talking to Dr. Benedict, she suggested that it was a metaphorical representation of the compass. In the Observation section of the chapter, it describes the ocean as vast and not to be founded by man. Then, in the Application section, the Heart of Man naturally abounds with monstrous lusts and abominations. Going deeper, one can suggest that navigating the sea can be compared to trying to navigate life. The compass wasn’t just a tool one can physically hold in their hand, but a general concept of trying to get through life.

I also found this poem I found kind of neat. It shows the spiritual side of the compass as a concept, as those in ancient times put their faith in a god, or higher being. They relied on the grace of this higher being to give them mercy, rather than actually trying to save themselves. Even today, there are some people like this. While it’s not a bad thing, it is a little impractical. 20170323_123319 (1).jpg

I also read a book titled, “Introduction to Astronomy.” I was hoping that I would get some small amount of information on the ancient ways that people used to read the stars to sail around, but that was a long-shot. I did not learn anything of value from the text, but the pictures were very crisp and clean.