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Issue 472, 5 November 2001


Portuguese first to chart the seas

Dr David Frier
Department of Spanish and Portuguese

I was fascinated by the article in a recent Reporter on the research being conducted by Dr Andrew Jackson on historical documents of early European maritime explorers. Without wishing to comment on the project being conducted by Dr Jackson (who may have sound scientific reasons for restricting his research to the period from the sixteenth century onwards), could I correct a false impression created by the article as published?

European seafarers were, in fact, engaging in long-distance maritime exploration well before the late sixteenth century, and your article, which mentions Spain specifically as the European country whose records in this field should go back further than any other, omits to mention the obvious fact that Columbus’ first journey to America took place a full century before the date mentioned by your article. In fact, however, it was Portugal who led the way in this respect from the early fifteenth century onwards: not only was Portugal responsible for such notable expeditions as Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the sea route to India in 1497-98, but the Portuguese (through initiatives such as the establishment of the School of Navigators in the Algarve) were enormously influential in the progress of many of the modern sciences (such as cartography) which made long-distance navigation a feasible proposition for the later explorers mentioned in your article.

Of course, other peoples, such as the Vikings, had also undertaken long-distance maritime exploration long before this period, but it was Portugal which first laid the scientific basis for what was to become the great period of European overseas expansion.

New recruits paid less than old hands

Fred Whitaker

Government minister, Stephen Byers, said two weeks ago that he would step in and take action to end two-tier workforces in public services. Yet this is exactly what is created at the University for maintenance workers.

Management ignore local plussages and bonuses when recruiting maintenance staff so recruits have a lower salary than their longer established colleagues even though they are doing the same job.

It is obviously divisive, damages morale and targets people who are desperate for employment and unaware that what they agree to is poorer pay than their new colleagues.

The government thinks this situation is unfair, the trade unions agree, as do those who have to tolerate this injustice. Surely it is time the University looked to its image as an enlightened employer and ended this inequality in the workplace.

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