Dutch Ships and Sailors

Creating an infrastructure for maritime historical datasets

As a sea-faring nation, a large portion of Dutch history is found on the water. These maritime activities were crucial in increasing regional and global economic, social and cultural exchange. The maritime sector has also been in the forefront of growing administration and control initiated by ship owners and states. As one of the best historically documented sectors of human activity, many aspects of historical maritime industries have been recorded by shipping companies, governments, newspapers and other institutions.

In the past few decades, much of the preserved historical source material has been digitized. This has produced large amounts of data, providing information on shipping, recruitment and historical developments. However, the digitized historical source material, is still scattered across many databases and archives. Information that deals with the same shipping movements and crew composition is spread over several historical sources and hence over several databases. By linking the different available databases, the data can complement and amplify each other, and new research possibilities open up.

Dutch Ships and Sailors aims to provide an infrastructure for maritime historical datasets, linking correlating data through semantic web technology. It brings together datasets related to recruitment and shipping in the East-India trade (mainly 18th century) and in the shipping of the northern provinces of the Netherlands (mainly 19th century). For the northern provinces, the database contains data on the personnel recruited, the ships, ship owners and other variables (Monsterrollen Noordelijke Nederlanden). For the VOC, the datasets involved contain data on the recruitment of personnel in the Dutch Republic (VOC Opvarenden), the voyages of ships to Asia and back (Dutch-Asiatic Shipping), the mustering of ships and crew composition in Asian waters (Generale Zeemonsterrollen). Both clusters of data, will be linked to the textual historical source of Historische Kranten of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, which offers news on ‘ship movements’ and (overseas) ‘events’ for both periods.

The Dutch Ships and Sailors project provides a tool chain and methodology for converting legacy datasets. The infrastructure includes common vocabularies to normalize and enrich existing data. Links are established between the datasets and to other relevant datasets. In doing so, Dutch Ships and Sailors builds a (semantic) web-based structure that aims to function as a future platform and infrastructure for maritime historical datasets.

The Dutch Ships and Sailors project is financed by CLARIN IV, and runs from April 2013 until February 2014. It is a collaboration between VU University Amsterdam and Huygens ING (The Hague) project.


Project team

  • dr. Victor de Boer (Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision)
  • dr. Matthias van Rossum (Leiden University)
  • dr. Jur Leinenga (Noordelijk Scheepvaartmuseum)
  • dr. Rik Hoekstra (Huygens ING)
  • prof. dr. Lex Heerma van Voss (Huygens ING)

Project members

  • prof. dr. Karel Davids (VU Amsterdam)
  • prof. dr. Joost Schokkenbroek (VU Amsterdam)
  • prof. dr. Jan Lucassen (IISG)