“Digitizing, Curating and Visualizing” Ship logbooks

Last year, a group of historians from a number of dfferent greek and spanish Institutions and Universities published a paper, in which they introduce the long process of digitalization, curatization and visualization on a number of selected 16 preserved logbooks as a case study.1

In the paper abstract, the authors want to “present a set of innovative tools that have been implemented for supporting historians in transcribing the original sources and curating the transcribed data as well as a web application that visualizes the curated data on an interactive map.”2) For this, they were using 16 original ship logbooks from the 19th and 20 century, which were preserved in seveen different archives in Greece and Spain.

Initially the article begins by introducing the practice of research in historical science, which is “is often concerned with the study and analysis of archival sources in order to de-scribe, examine, question and analyze a sequence of past events and also investigate the patterns of causes and effects that are related to them.” While this practice might be useful for quantitative analysis, it also comes along with issues, as they claim:

The need for faithful, fast and collaborative data entry by historians working on the same project but from different countries.

The difficulty of representing nested tabular structures, which is quite common when transcribing archival sources.

The need to curate the transcribed data without having to change the information as it appears in the original transcripts (and thus spoil the data).

The difficulty in revisiting the original sources of transcribed facts for verification, corrections or improvements.

The difficulty in combining and integrating data from multiple and diverse data sources and thus perform quantitative analysis of facts coming from different information sources.

Petrakis, K. et. al. (2021)

For their case study, they took ship logbooks and realized that they are an “invaluable type of source, yet largely unexplored by historians who have only used them in a secondary and supplementary way”. As such, natural scientiests were busy to draw back on various apects out of logbooks since the 1970s already. Climatologists for example, found in logbooks helpful wheather and wind observations. Logbooks of different kind of ship types (whaling, naval, trade, etc.) provide different information to a certain degrees including “navigation, trade routes, naval warfare, medical history, environmental history and the social history of work and life on board.”3

You can read the full article under the link in the footnotes.

  1. Petrakis, K., Samaritakis, G., Kalesios, T., García Domingo, E., Delis, A., Tzitzikas, Y., Doerr, M., & Fafalios, P. (2021): Digitizing, Curating and Visualizing Archival Sources of Maritime History: the case of ship logbooks of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Drassana, (28), 60–87. https://doi.org/10.51829/Drassana.28.649 [Last Access: 16.08.2022]. []
  2. Petrakis, K. et. al. (2021 []
  3. Petrakis, K. et. al. (2021), p. 63. []
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