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Analyzing the Titanic Catastrophe
At least five separate boards of inquiry on both sides of the Atlantic conducted comprehensive hearings on Titanic’s sinking, interviewing dozens of witnesses and consulting with many maritime experts. Every conceivable subject was investigated, from the conduct of the officers and crew to the construction of the ship. While it has always been assumed that the ship sank as a result of the gash that caused the compartments to flood, various other theories have emerged over the decades, including that the ship’s steel plates were too brittle for the near-freezing Atlantic waters, that the impact caused rivets to pop and that the expansion joints failed, among others.
The technological aspects of the catastrophe aside, Titanic’s demise has taken on a deeper, almost mythic, meaning in popular culture. Many view the tragedy as a morality play about the dangers of human hubris: Titanic’s creators believed they had built an “unsinkable” ship that could not be defeated by the laws of nature. This same overconfidence explains the electrifying impact Titanic’s sinking had on the public when she was lost. There was widespread disbelief that the ship could possibly have sunk, and, due to the era’s slow and unreliable means of communication, misinformation abounded. Newspapers initially reported that the ship had collided with an iceberg but remained afloat and was being towed to port with everyone on board. It took many hours for accurate accounts to become available, and even then people had trouble accepting that this paradigm of modern technology could sink on her maiden voyage, taking more than 1,500 souls with her.
The ship historian John Maxtone-Graham has compared Titanic’s story to the Challenger space shuttle disaster of 1986. In that case, the world reeled at the notion that some of the most sophisticated technology ever created could explode into oblivion along with its crew. Both tragedies triggered a sudden and complete collapse in confidence, revealing that we are vulnerable despite our modern presumptions of technological infallibility.
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The essential model for any Titanic history buff - a handsome 1/350 scale model ship.
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