Based on the premise that the history of navigation
can provide an effective evidence of the modern globalization processes, GSR
aims to answer the question: how can we represent the historical evolution of the duration time of different sorts of early-modern and modern European transoceanic sea voyages
on a synoptic and comparative scale? We imagined to give an answer based on the most advanced online IT representation techniques
and drew inspiration from important digital history projects
of a similar kind.
The project originates from a global-history research perspective
and, in particular, from interests related to the process of European expansion, to exploration sea-voyages and to scientific, military and commercial sea expeditions overseas that have taken place with increasing intensity in the centuries of the modern age
up to the end of the 19th century.
The history of European overseas navigation at the time of the first globalization, between the late 15th and the late 19th century, is still lacking a comprehensive and comparative quantitative
, cartographic and visual synthetic representation
. We have several partial historical reconstructions of this phenomenon in narrative or historical-cartographic formats. Computer technology allows us to create a tool capable of representing visually historical data by a geodatabase accessible online.
In order to achieve this, we rely mainly on two kinds of sources: printed voyage accounts
- a genre of primary importance for the history of Western culture in the modern era - and manuscript logbooks
, of which there are considerable archival repositories in various national contexts, albeit with important differences in terms of abundance and temporal continuity (England, France, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, USA).
Both kinds of sources are obviously well known, but their use has so far been for purposes other than our own. The former, thanks to their essentially narrative character, have served above all for the reconstruction of the history of geographical explorations, for the history of shipping and navigation, for the history of navigators, for the history of the encounter between Europeans and non-European peoples and cultures and thus for the history of ethno-anthropological knowledge, for the history of natural sciences. Logbooks - a more technical type of documents, lacking the narrative character of voyage reports -
have received comparatively less attention and have been used either for controversial purposes (Henry Wise, 1839) or in specialised fields for the study of climate (e.g., see the CLIWOC project), or of certain types of navigation, such as those of tea clippers in the 19th century (Lubbock, 1914, 1921, 1924) or for the analysis of the speeds of naval communications in limited periods (Solar, 2013, 2015). Only in one case (Dutch-Asiatic Shipping in the 17th and 18th centuries, edited by J. R. Bruijn, F. S. Gaastra and I.Schöffer, with assistance from A. C. J. Vermeulen and E. S. van Eyck van Heslinga, The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1987, 3 vols.) an attempt was made to make a systematic collection of logbooks, those of the Dutch VOC, even going as far as to create an online database, albeit with limited search capabilities.
In none of these cases, however, was it considered necessary to use the voyage reports and logbooks 1) in order to derive navigation data and to reconstruct on this basis the actual routes (and consequently the voyage times) and the navigation methods adopted in the three centuries of the early modern age; and 2) in order to construct from these data a geo-referenced cartographic representation of the routes of global navigation.
The method adopted here, on the other hand, makes it possible to achieve precisely this objective, taking into consideration a great variety of voyages, selected on a chronological, geographical, typological and national basis, which, through a large and significant sample, makes it possible to obtain a cartographic and georeferenced online visual representation of the phenomenon studied. From this point of view, the project has a twofold methodological objective: to enhance a source of exceptional value and interest for the history of navigation, but largely underused, and to carry out an advanced experiment in the field of digital history.