‘Father of Oceanography’ Cancelled By Oceanography School on Cape Cod

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2021/03/13/father-of-oceanography-cancelled-by-oceanography-school-on-cape-cod/

A short road running through the campus of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod has been renamed because its namesake fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War and supported slavery.

Maury Lane is now officially called Marie Tharp Lane. The school has erected a temporary sign and plans to replace it with a permanent sign eventually, according to The Cape Cod Times.

Matthew Maury (1806-1873), known as Pathfinder of the Seas and the Father of Oceanography, is credited with coining the word “oceanography” in 1859.

Maury has been on a slow burn of replacement due to not being well known outside of specialist circles. When left-wing demonstrators on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia tore down a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America, in June 2020, for instance, they merely vandalized a statue of Maury. They initially seemed confused about who he was. “F— This Guy Too,” they spray painted on the base of Maury’s statue. (Maury’s statue was eventually removed by the city last July.)

Maury was born in Virginia and grew up in Tennessee. He later settled in Virginia.

As a 19-year-old U.S. Navy midshipman, Maury was fascinated by ocean currents, wind, and navigation. He sailed around the world on Navy ships, and recorded observations everywhere he went.

A serious leg injury from a stagecoach accident when he was 33 made it impossible for him to serve at sea, so he took a series of desk jobs. One made him a Navy librarian in charge of unorganized ship’s logs. He organized the information and solicited new information from other sources, and encouraged ship’s captains from all over the world to send him their data. He published his findings as a compendium of prevailing winds and currents in the Atlantic Ocean, which made sea routes more efficient and shortened sailing times.

He also plotted whale migrations and got ships to start recording meteorological observations at sea, according to SciHi.org. He fought for government funding for his scientific projects. He was also the driving force behind founding the Naval Observatory in Washington D.C., where he found an ally in an elderly sitting congressman who was also a former president, John Quincy Adams.

During the early 1840s he wrote articles (under a pseudonym) calling for the creation of a naval academy. It was established in 1845.

In 1849, Maury began taking soundings of the Atlantic Ocean, leading to a contour map of the ocean floor that showed a plateau where a transatlantic cable could be lain, which led to communications connection by telegraph between Europe and North America.

In 1855, he charted shipping lanes between North America and Europe so that ships at sea would avoid colliding in low visibility.

Achievements like these led, after his death in 1873, to Maury’s being honored with the name of a building at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland; six ships of the U.S. Navy; a river in west central Virginia; a crater on the moon; a statue in Richmond, Virginia; and a lane at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Maury is the subject of an admiring 1939 10-minute biographical film called Prophet Without Honor.

So why the cancellation?

Two historians published a co-written article last year in a journal called Oceanography subtitled “Navigating A Racist Legacy in Ocean Science.” It criticizes Maury’s views about slavery and his Civil War and post-Civil War activities.

Maury never owned slaves. But he supported slavery. He also supported the union. To try to save both, he called for making a deal with the emperor of Brazil (where slavery was legal, and remained so until 1888) to allow Southern slaveholders to move there with their slaves. The idea never took hold.

After the Civil War began, Maury resigned his commission in the U.S. Navy and joined the Confederate Navy. (For comparison, about 60 percent of U.S. Army officers from Virginia also resigned from the U.S. Army.)

During the war, Maury masterminded electricity-powered mines that damaged Union shipping. Disagreements among the Confederate brass led to his being sent to Europe to represent the Confederate cause there as a diplomat. After the war he went to Mexico and tried unsuccessfully to establish a colony there for white Southerners and their slaves.

Maury received a pardon from the U.S. federal government in 1868, and returned to Virginia, where he taught at Virginia Military Institute until his death five years later.

The street in Woods Hole that honored Maury now honors Marie Tharp (1920-2006), whose admirers consider her an under-appreciated scientist whose professional growth was stinted because of former limitations on the aspirations of women.

Tharp was a graduate assistant for and later professional collaborator of geologist Bruce Heezen. Together, they created what are considered the first detailed maps of the underwater Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is part of the longest mountain range on earth.

Maury first posited the existence of such a ridge in 1853, based on soundings he had taken at the time.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private school of graduate-level education and research dedicated to marine science and engineering founded in 1930. It takes up a significant portion of the village of Woods Hole, which is in the town of Falmouth at the southwestern corner of Cape Cod.

Woods Hole is in the most left-leaning precinct in left-leaning Falmouth. In the November 2020 presidential election, town of Falmouth voters went for Joe Biden over Donald Trump by 64.1 percent to 33.3 percent, or less than two to one. The town’s Precinct 1, which includes Woods Hole and an area near it, went for Biden over Trump by 77.9 percent to 19.4 percent, or more than four to one.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution sent out a press release on the road name change on Thursday, March 11, 44 days after the Falmouth Planning Board approved the name change without much comment.

The press release notes that March, the current month, is also called Women’s History Month. (It was declared so by Congress in 1987.)

“The street renaming is a part of a multi-tiered initiative to recognize diverse and underrepresented people and supports the institution’s commitment to fostering an equitable and inclusive community, including the hiring of WHOI’s first Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion officer position, currently under recruitment,” the school said in the press release.

The written statement quotes the president of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Peter de Menocal, an oceanographer and climate change specialist.

It states in part:


WHOI’s senior administration decided to pursue a name change in light of the growing support to rename locations named after Confederate officers and leaders.  “Acknowledging Tharp’s contributions better represents the vision and mission of WHOI as a leader in ocean discovery, exploration, and education,” added de Menocal.