Good morning everyone.
Today I have something a bit different from my usual stultifying pontifications. I was viewing a video on YouTube, I forget what it was now, and I happened to spot a video in the right hand column entitled “100 Years of Ships”. I like ships in general, and 100 years of them might be quite a show, so I started the video, but it wasn’t at all what I expected.
What I was watching was a graphical representation of the shipping routes used during the period of 1750 to 1850, plotted month by month on a map of the world. It shows primarily routes used by the British, Dutch, and Spanish, and has an ‘other’ category that everyone else is lumped into.
It was fascinating to watch. You can see the trade routes to Africa, India, and Malaysia, and the routes to the New World, as well as some of the routes used by exploratory and military expeditions. It’s a very interesting way of looking at history. The data used for the routes was taken from the information recorded in the logbooks from the many ships that were sailing during that period. Someone did one hell of a lot of work to create the database used for the visualization.
I was curious as to how the visualization was made, so I went to the creator’s website, Sapping Attention, to find out more.
There I found the article “Visualizing Ocean Shipping” by Ben Schmidt where he talks about how and why he created the video. It turns out that he heard about a data visualization on the website Spatial Analysis from some historians talking about it on Twitter. Intrigued now, I wandered over to Spatial Analysis, and discovered that they had found the dataset by accident, and the dataset had been put together as part of the database for the Climatological Database for the World’s Oceans 1750-1850 (CLIWOC) project that was done by the Complutense University of Madrid. A most curious chain of events indeed.
There are two videos with descriptions by Ben Schmidt:
” The first one is long: it shows about 100 years of ship paths in the seas, as recorded in hundreds of ship’s log books, by hand, one or several times a day. I haven’t watched the whole thing at once, but skipping around gives a pretty good idea of the state of the database (if not world shipping) at any given moment.”
“You can watch either of these in much higher resolution by clicking around here or on YouTube–I definitely recommend 720p.
This shows mostly Spanish, Dutch, and English routes–they are surprisingly constant over the period (although some empires drop in and out of the record), but the individual voyages are fun. And there are some macro patterns–the move of British trade towards India, the effect of the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, and so on.”
And the second video, “A Year of Ships”:
“The second has to do with seasonality: it compresses all those years onto a single span of January-December, to reveal seasonal patterns. I loop through a couple times so you can get a better sense, but the data is the same for each year.”
If you find these data visualizations at all interesting, you should go read more over at Sapping Attention and Spatial Analysis to find out more.