This week marks the moment Queen Elizabeth II will become Britain's longest reigning monarch, surpassing Queen Victoria's 64-year-long rule on Wednesday. The two queens presided over very different countries: one as Britain emerged as a global superpower in the 19th century; the other as that power waned and dwindled in the next century.

The origins of Britain's imperial might, though, did not stem from regal decree — but the work of a private joint-stock company under royal charter. The East India Company, as it came to be known, eventually commanded its own armies and territory, until 1858 when — after a bloody Indian uprising — it ceded control over its Indian holdings directly to the British Crown.

In 2012, climate scientist Philip Brohan used the Company's logbooks to track the movements of its shipping fleets between 1798-1834, a key period during which Britain cemented its colonial authority in parts of Asia. The result is a somewhat hypnotic timelapse of a nation exerting itself across the globe.

"We transcribed daily positions, temperature, pressure and wind observations from the logbooks of ships in the service of the English East-India Company," explains Brohan on his Vimeo page. These logs, he says, are also "being used to increase understanding of global climate variability and change."

AD
AD