Early modern seamen wrote letters. As archival findings and research in recent years have shown, this statement refers not only to the group of ship captains, helmsmen or comparably high-ranking officers both on merchant ships and in the royal navy, but to the entire crew of early modern seagoing vessels. Today, we assume that the literacy rate among seamen of all ranks on early modern ships is much higher than assumed in research a decade ago.
The aim of this international workshop is to bring together researchers and archivists of early modern maritime history, renowned scholars as well as international early-career scholars to discuss the research possibilities on mariners’ letters (17th-18th centuries) and to exchange ideas on where we can still find this special kind of letters in archives worldwide.
We define mariner letters as letters written by mariners or sent to mariners. They include both commercial and personal letters of all ranks of crew members on board of the ships. Mariners' letters are characterized by a particular form and language, and often by a particular material. These letters shed light on life on board, seafarers’ experiences, hierarchies and patriarchy on board, but also on larger trade networks, world events, labor markets, and colonial contexts. Sailors’ letters offer enormous research potential. In stark contrast, research on this special type of letter is still scarce.
In our workshop we want to set the course for intensifying research on seafarers’ letters in an international framework. The goal of the workshop is to explore the potential for building an international network of scholars and archivists to discover, visualize, and research early modern mariner letters.
As is prevalent in current research, the geographic framework includes Northern Europe, North America, Canada, the Caribbean, and the East Indies, however, the workshop furthermore places a special emphasis on regions that are less explored in terms of seafarers' letters. Thus, in addition to English and French letters, contributions focus on seafaring letters from Spain, Portugal, Brazil, the Hanseatic cities, Scandinavia or the Mediterranean Sea.
One particular theme of the workshop will be to assess discovery strategies and discovery potential for mariner letters in Portuguese, Brazilian, Spanish and North African municipal, provincial, and national archives and libraries.
A second theme will be the availability and publication of mariner letters within the English High Court of Admiralty Prize Papers currently digitized by the Prize Papers Project including letters in 19 different languages. The third theme to be discussed is our goal to connect and bring together international efforts, research and exchange of archives on mariners' letters in a network.
Over two days, we will discuss the topic of early modern mariner letters through eight papers (4 sessions) and a keynote. We would like to invite participants to think of this workshop not as a small conference, but rather as a "history lab", an online workshop where work in progress is presented and discussed. Papers should be no longer than 15 minutes, which will be followed by a 15-minute discussion for each paper.