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Found at sea
December 26, 2013 9:06 PM   Subscribe


 
"The centre of gravity for global maritime commerce clearly is the east coast of North America"
This, as well as several other of the other strange effects in the map that are pointed out in the blog post like an absence of the eastern Mediterranean and Baltic, are clearly artifacts of the map using the US Maury collection as a data source. Obviously an American collection of log books will feature the American shoreline as its epicenter and follow American shipping routes to the exclusion of non-American shipping routes.

This failed analysis does not at all however detract from how fucking awesome the map is. A better link can be found here, which also includes this incredibly awesome video of paths taking by American ships from about 1800 to 1860, running as if in a single year to show seasonal patterns.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:51 PM on December 26, 2013 [19 favorites]


Doesn't excuse lazy analysis but the American bias pointed out by blasdelb is clearly noted in the footnote for his pullquote: "A result that is perhaps not surprising, and a little bit biased, since this map is compiled from American data."

For another fascinating project involving extracting massive datasets from old ships' logs see the Old Weather Project, A crowd-sourced "citizen science project" that seeks to transcribe the weather data from ships logs in order to use it to improve weather/climate models and provide insight into historical weather patterns. Pretty neat.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:02 PM on December 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Interesting, given that this is an American map, the lack of any repeated destination on the West African coast. You see the Azores, but no equivalent of Philadelphia or Jakarta on the West African Coast. Instead there is a myriad of lightly travelled paths all along the coast which wasn't what I would have expected given the commercial volume of the slave trade in the early to mid 1800s.
posted by three blind mice at 11:35 PM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The associated video, American Whaling Mapped is quite remarkable. One can see the ships seasonally move to the waters of Alaska and then deliver their catches.

Also there is a horizontal path leading west from the west coast of South America. You can see ships get stuck there in the doldrums.
posted by rmmcclay at 11:54 PM on December 26, 2013


Interesting, given that this is an American map, the lack of any repeated destination on the West African coast. You see the Azores, but no equivalent of Philadelphia or Jakarta on the West African Coast. Instead there is a myriad of lightly travelled paths all along the coast which wasn't what I would have expected given the commercial volume of the slave trade in the early to mid 1800s.

The footnotes also say that the ships from whose logs this map was built were mostly whaling, not slaving, which is why the coast of west Africa is relatively lightly travelled.
posted by Thing at 1:48 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The map is a really lovely piece of work. I regret not having made it myself, it was a very clever idea.

I'm astonished we don't know the etymology of the world "doldrums". Some sites give it as a portmanteau of "dull" and "tantrum", but it seems dubious.
posted by Nelson at 2:53 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


the ships from whose logs this map was built were mostly whaling

That would explain it. That's another sobering thought to these beautiful maps. All those journeys to kill whales to produce oil for lighting.
posted by three blind mice at 5:47 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


the thing about the doledrums, though, is that while there are clumps of ships getting stuck in the video Blasdelb shared, there's also a ton of ships that zip right through those points. What's up with those guys?
posted by rebent at 6:06 AM on December 27, 2013


Interesting, given that this is an American map, the lack of any repeated destination on the West African coast.

There is a thick belt of activity running roughly from modern day Guinea to the Ivory Coast. The triangular trade is more obvious in blasdelb's year of shipping video. The slave trade was a bit of a specialty, and while highly lucrative a lot of mariners wouldn't touch it. I doubt it's under-represented on the map; it's just that ships carrying other goods were far more numerous.
posted by localroger at 6:35 AM on December 27, 2013


Here's a great page that summarizes how the doldrums, horse latitudes, westerlies and easterlies all come from the Earth's atmosphere trying to transport the energy deposited by sunlight to the poles while rotating once every 24 hours.

Also, I'm grateful for this post, because it pointed out to me that I had a defunct RSS feed for Strange Maps in my Feedly!
posted by BrashTech at 7:31 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The interesting thing is how lightly traveled the pacific coast above San Francisco is despite the historical plethora of whales in this area. It seems like there is a minor doldrum about the 40th parallel a few hundred miles into the pacific from San Fran.
posted by Colonel Panic at 7:35 AM on December 27, 2013


That's another sobering thought to these beautiful maps. All those journeys to kill whales to produce oil for lighting.

Well, really it was to fuel the Industrial Revolution by securing long-lasting, high-quality machine lubricant. The lighting was not the central focus nor what made it so valuable - lamp oil was one of the lowest grades of whale product.

I'm not sure the dark spots are the doldrums at all. I think they are whaling grounds, and the "American Whaling Mapped" video linked above seems to endorse that idea. Whale ships didn't move point to point with the priority on speed, as did cargo ships. They found a place where there were a lot of whales, usually above shallows in the ocean where there was abundant sea life to feed on, and stayed there for days or weeks taking as many whales as they could. Since these are largely whaling vessels, that makes far more sense than the idea that they were just becalmed.
posted by Miko at 7:45 AM on December 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now I'm wondering whether the data is available to make a British whaling or commercial map for the same period. Naval records have to be in storage somewhere, but the commercial records might not have survived.
posted by immlass at 7:56 AM on December 27, 2013


I'm certain they do, but don't know where to look. Whaling and shipping records were among the most important national documents in the 18th and 19th century. A nation that mastered the oceans (and thus the world's economic resources) mastered its destiny.

My understanding is that the British whaling trade was less developed and shorter-lived than the American trade.
posted by Miko at 8:02 AM on December 27, 2013


There is a thick belt of activity running roughly from modern day Guinea to the Ivory Coast. The triangular trade is more obvious in blasdelb's year of shipping video. The slave trade was a bit of a specialty, and while highly lucrative a lot of mariners wouldn't touch it. I doubt it's under-represented on the map; it's just that ships carrying other goods were far more numerous.

While it is true that the ships' routes touch the coast of west Africa at Upper Guinea and the Grain Coast, it is very light around on the Ivory, Gold, and Slave Coasts, and the Bight of Biafra, where the trading was best for slaves. The map should show a thick cluster of ships in the Bight where slavers would wait for weeks while the slaves were brought down to them.

As for numbers, British ships alone in the last generation before the trade was abolished counted maybe 60 to 80 a year. I don't know how many ships came out of the US in the same years, but New England slavers from ports such as Newport were already advanced at that time.
posted by Thing at 9:09 AM on December 27, 2013


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