Ships, innovation and social change: Aspects of carvel shipbuilding in Northern Europe 1450-1850.

Adams, J. R. (2003) Ships, innovation and social change: Aspects of carvel shipbuilding in Northern Europe 1450-1850., Stockholm, University of Stockholm, 248pp. (Stockholm studies in archaeology 24 and Stockholm marine archaeology reports 3).


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Change is a central concern of archaeology, imprinted on and variously visible in the surviving material
culture of the past - the archaeological record. As changes in material culture imply changes in the
society that produced it, the technologies used in its production provide one of the primary means of
analysing the nature of those changes and their trajectories. In other words an archaeological study of
technology is, or should be, a study of change. Among the myriad forms that material culture may take,
boats and ships were often the most sophisticated expressions of technology that societies achieved. The
production, use and disposal of watercraft involved complex patterns of behaviour and communication,
within and between communities. Hence the material culture of water transport offers one of the best
means of interrogating changes within past societies, especially considering the ‘fine-grained’ nature of
the remains preserved in marine, riverine and lacustrine environments.
Until recently it is debatable how far research has tried to capitalise on this advantage. We have tended
to focus on ships as technological phenomena ‘per se’ rather than relating them to the contexts of their
production. This has produced a database of increasing richness, heavily augmented in recent years by
material discovered under water. But while the database constitutes an eloquent record of change having
happened it does not explain it. In fact technologically orientated research, especially when entrapped in
simplistic, linear, evolutionist frameworks, has generated a series of problems that have repeatedly
defied solution. Might these technological puzzles be more easily solved when investigated within the
social contexts in which they were conceived and created?
This work focuses on a series of late medieval and postmedieval ships from north west Europe and the
southern Baltic area. They are linked by their common ‘carvel’ construction and represent three major
episodes of technological change (chapters 4, 5, & 6). Re-examination of these ships in the contexts
both of their carvel building tradition and of the wider societies in which they were generated, reveals
new causal factors and explanatory relationships. At the same time this approach to understanding ships
provides new perspectives on the societies themselves, highlighting aspects that otherwise remain
opaque. The relationship between social change and its manifestation in shipping not only reaffirms the
role of ships in the most significant developments of the postmedieval world but suggests the
archaeological boat record is one of the most potent but as yet, under-exploited ways of investigating

Item Type: Book
Additional Information: Ph.D. Dissertation. Partial Contents: Ships & boats as archaeological source material. Reading Ships. Ships as Society. From Medieval to Modern-Ships of State. Hull Structures. Spars & Rigging. Fittings. Ordnance. Guns or Barricas? Shipwrights-status & power. Carvel Building in retrospect. Maritime Material Culture. References. Glossary. Appendices.
ISBNs: 9172656859 (hardback)
Keywords: Baltic; Carvel; Clinker; Europe; Innovation; Medieval; Postmedieval; Power; Scandinavia; Ship; Social change; Status; Symbol; Tradition; Technology
Subjects: C Auxiliary Sciences of History > CC Archaeology
Divisions : University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Humanities > Archaeology
University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Humanities
ePrint ID: 11970
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
Date Deposited: 17 Nov 2004
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 11:23

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