“Data visualizations are like narratives: they suggest interpretations, but don’t require them. A good data visualization, in fact, lets you see things the interpreter might have missed. This should make data visualization especially appealing to historians. Much of the historian’s art is turning dull information into compelling narrative; visualization is useful for us because it suggests new ways of making interesting the stories we’ve been telling all along. In particular: data visualization lets us make historical structures immediately accessible in the same way that narratives have let us do so for stories about individual agents.
“I’ve been looking at the ship’s logs that climatologists digitize because it’s a perfect case of forlorn data that might tell a more interesting story. My post on European shipping gives more of the details about how to make movies from ship’s logs, but this time I want to talk about why, using a new set with about a half-century of American vessels sailing around the world.
“To find something I might more usefully be able to discuss, I went through the biggest source of historical shipping records, the ICOADs collection, and pulled out the very first systematic collection of logbooks ever assembled: Matthew Maury’s collection of American shipping from about 1785 to 1860, assembled mostly before the Civil War.”
Legend: Hunt** = East Greenland (EG), Davis Strait (DS), Newfoundland (NL), Cumberland Gulf (CG)
Note: For additional data, see Scottish Arctic Whaling. In the table below, click on a column heading to sort by that column. Click on an entry in the “Link to Whaling History” column to view voyage data for that vessel.
When the Journal arrived at the Custom House in August 2020, it was examined by Susan Tamulevich, Executive Director, and Laurie Deredita, librarian, who noted its fragile condition. Despite the temptation to start reading it, they decided that it would be prudent to handle the manuscript as little as possible. After an article appeared in the Day of New London, it became clear that there was a lot of local interest in this New London-based whaling journal and that it would be useful to have a transcription of the pages publicly available. To this end, Susan took photographs of each of the pages so that a transcriber could work from the images rather than the pages themselves. Eventually, it was decided to “crowdsource” the task of transcribing to volunteer “scriveners.” With the Custom House closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed like the perfect project for people interested in maritime history but stuck at home. All of the sending, receiving and editing of documents would take place electronically.
Susan’s call for volunteers received local and national media attention and she was nearly overwhelmed with responses from people all over the country and abroad who wanted to try their hand at transcribing. In early January 2021 she began to send out the page assignments and instructions to the volunteers. Within days, Laurie started receiving the completed transcriptions from the volunteers and she began to post the texts, side-by-side with the corresponding photographed pages from the manuscript, on an online website called Voyage of the Whaler Merrimac, created on the Omeka platform. By February 2021 the transcription part of the project was complete but the editing process took another two months until we decided that it was good enough.
Through interactive maps and visualizations, Mattapoisett Data Stories invites exploration of life in the shipbuilding village of Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, in the late 1700s and mid-1800s by integrating map, census, and American Offshore Whaling Voyages data.
Through an interactive map focusing on village residents, visitors can explore Mattapoisett village c. 1855/1856. Clicking on the map reveals information about the residents, the whaling voyages residents crewed, historic buildings, and related Mattapoisett Museum collection records. Overlaying later town maps shows how the town changed between 1856 and 1903.
Visualizations summarize the growth of the U.S. whaling and Mattapoisett shipbuilding industries during the 1800s, document changes in occupations, and provide contextualized access to collection images.
The underlying microdata may be viewed online and downloaded.
This map represents the journey of the whaler Neptune (Mystic Seaport Museum O-LOG 23) of New London, Connecticut. Chronicling the ship’s voyage from October, 1840 – April, 1842, the map depicts the ship’s day-to-day events as it traveled to the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans as they were described in the ship’s logbook. View the active map →
This voyage of Neptune is American Offshore Whaling Voyage AV10372. Our database includes summary information about the voyage, the vessel and the master, Samuel Greene, Jr., as well as a crew list. In building her interactive voyage map, Allyse Zajac started with AOWL logbook data then added detail, encoded special events, and transcribed all of the complete logbook entries from the original logbook in the collections of Mystic Seaport Museum.
In the next phase of our project, we hope to take the data set from her project and use it to enhance the information on whalinghistory.org.
At its peak in the mid-19th century, whaling was a gigantic, global business that provided oil to light the streets and homes of Europe and America, and bone to make profitable consumer goods for sale around the world. The young United States dominated this industry, and for a time, whaling was the fifth largest sector of the American economy.
While stories of whaling drama, adventure, and violence are typically set at sea, this map aims to communicate the economic impact of whaling back in American ports, where sperm oil, whale oil, and whalebone landed and entered the market. For over 60 port cities and towns, this map reports the market values of whale products as they were returned to port from 1804 to 1876, illustrating the drastic ebbs and flows of the industry.
American whalemen sailed out of ports on the east coast of the United States and in California from the 18th to early 20th centuries, searching for whales throughout the world’s oceans. From an initial focus on sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) and right whales (Eubalaena spp.), the array of targeted whales expanded to include bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus), humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), and gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus). Extensive records of American whaling in the form of daily entries in whaling voyage logbooks contain a great deal of information about where and when the whalemen found whales. We plotted daily locations where the several species of whales were observed, both those caught and those sighted but not caught, on world maps to illustrate the spatial and temporal distribution of both American whaling activity and the whales. The patterns shown on the maps provide the basis for various inferences concerning the historical distribution of the target whales prior to and during this episode of global whaling.
To: Mystic Seaport, Collections Research Center
Date: 23 November 2017
When my older brother died last month, his widow sent me a box of family papers, much of which I was totally ignorant of. Among them was a letter dated Nov 2nd 1859, from Honolulu, Sandwich Islands. The letter was from, I assume, a crew Member to his mother. In it he expresses regret at the news of his father’s death and guilt that he wasn’t there to help console the family. He writes that there are presently about 80 ships in port, mostly whalers, and he has met many men from Hartford. He also notes that they were “in the Ochotsk Sea six months and have on board one thousand barrels of oil and 8500 lbs of bone”. He signed the letter “From your ever affectionate and dutyful son, Sidney Case.” He then writes “Please direct Honolulu Sandwich Island in care of Cpt Davey (Davis?)“Barque Gratitude” The hand writing is very formal and ornate, the letter has been folded, unfolded numerous times and at some point the folds were taped making much of it difficult to read. I would like to confirm that “Sidney Case” was a crew member, and then try to determine what connection he had with my family (Gilmore (Gillmore) and Randall). Any information you can provide is appreciated.