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English Merchant Shipping, Trade, and Maritime Communities
Isaac Sailmaker (1653-1721) 'The Island of Barbados',
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Welcome to the website of an interdisciplinary project based at the University of Southampton that charts the growth of England's (later Britain's) emergence as a global trading nation and maritime power, challenging pre-existing notions of how and why the nation's maritime empire emerged as it did. It will also chart, for the first time on a grand scale, the trade of foreign shipping and maritime communities - from Europe and further afield - to and from Britain.

The project team, led by Professor Craig Lambert, will undertake the first, systematic, nationwide investigation of the records related to maritime commercial activity over two centuries. It will produce the first pre-modern register of British ships, redefine our understanding of the socio-cultural world of the maritime community, create lasting and interactive digital resources for scholars and the public and, for the first time, precisely map the development of England's seaborne trade routes and global presence over two centuries.

The project is supported by two Co-Investigators and a research team who are specialists in the fields of maritime and global history, and computer science. Dr John McAleer is a former curator at the National Maritime Museum and an expert in eighteenth and nineteenth-century maritime history. Jason Sadler is the IT Manager for Southampton's GeoData Institute and specialises in software architectures and web development. Jason is supported by Dr Julia Branson and Ian Waldock, both members of the GeoData Institute and experts in database development and software engineering. The GeoData team will enable us to process and analyse a large amount of data and support the development of the website. Historical research support is provided by our Research Fellows: Dr Gary Baker and Dr Lucy Huggins.

Central to the project is the development of a relational database which will incorporate a large body of quantitative data. We will combine evidence contained in customs accounts which record taxes charged on maritime trade, with information from musters, tax records, and probate documents so we can analyse the size and geographical distribution of the merchant fleet, the evolution of maritime trade, and reconstruct the working lives of mariners, merchants, and shipowners. We will be exploring the sources more fully in our project blog 'The Crow's Nest' in the coming months.

Our work will be facilitated by an exciting collaboration with Osiris-AI. Osiris will enable us to process thousands of images of our sources using Handwriting Text Recognition Software. Their work develops existing technology in reading historical documents but also goes a stage further by structuring the texts into relational databases.

We will be working throughout our research with a variety of community and project partners. We will give communities the opportunity to explore the history of their families and their localities. Through a variety of means - from the freely accessible website, study days, pop-up exhibitions, and live theatrical events - our project will disseminate the findings of our research and enable the co-production of knowledge and insight amongst a public audience. Our key partners are the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, SS Great Britain, Bristol, The Golden Hinde, London, and a series of community and local government institutions across Southampton, including the City Tour Guides , The Sarah Siddons Fan Club Theatre Company, and Southampton City Council.