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History of Ship Design and Construction


This website archive contains a collection of material related to the history of Naval Architecture, specifically on methods and practices of ship design and construction. The primary objective has been in providing access to contemporary historical sources, which are often rare and difficult to obtain otherwise, although some secondary, more recent references were included, too. The scope of the collection is intended to be open to information from all relevant periods and regions from antiquity to the modern era throughout the world. The purpose of the archive is to assist in research work dealing with scientific and practical knowledge in the broadest sense in this discipline.

In practice the initial nucleus of the collection, as it now stands, has resulted from activities in the context of a workshop held at MPIWG in November 2001 on the subject of "Shipbuilding Practice and Ship Design Methods from the Renaissance to the 18th Century." Thus the material shows a strong orientation toward the remarkable developments in ship design and construction between about AD 1450 and 1800, mainly in mediterranean countries and Western Europe. However, important references from other periods and regions were not excluded and the archive may gradually continue to grow in this broader direction.

The archive is subdivided into four categories of material:

  • Historical sources, i.e., books and articles reproduced in full length
  • An extensive bibliography of sources relevant to the subject
  • A catalogue of the privat archive of the Venetian patrician Giacomo Contarini, who was “Provveditore” at the Venetian Arsenal at the end of the 16th Century
  • A link to the MPIWG 2002 Workshop Report, comprising 9 of the most important, original contributions plus an overview of the session programme.

Grateful acknowledgments are expressed to the workshop authors and project team, the library staff, and the current ECHO project team, whose untiring efforts have made the compilation and online display of this comprehensive material possible. Special credit goes to David McGee, then a guest scientist at MPIWG and the initial instigator of the extensive bibliography and source collections. Three manuscripts, which are particular relevant for the history of shipbuilding and belonging to the Archive “Giacomo Contarini” could be published thanks to the collaboration of the State Archive of Venice.

Manuscripts from the Archive of the Commissioner of the Venetian Arsenal, Giacomo Contarini

The documents preserved at the Archivio Proprio Giacomo Contarini, collected by the homonymous Venetian Senator (1536-1595), mirror the various offices he held during his life time: supervisor of fortifications and of their building-sites; member of the Senatorial Commission in charge of judging the submitted plans for the construction of the Ponte di Rialto in Venice; and Commissioner of the Arsenal of Venice, to cite only a few examples. Giacomo Contarini always took care to copy and collect relevant material and to supplement it with copies of treatises which could have been helpful in solving the concrete problems encountered in his professions. His maecenatism, which allowed him membership to the most important cultural circles of Venice and Padova, like the one gravitating around G. Pinelli, brought him in friendly and professional contact with figures like Palladio and Galileo. Evidence of these cultural interests can be found in his private Archive, especially concerning his interest in painting, poetry, Greek, philosophy, theology, botany, and mathematics. Microeconomic history, shipbuilding history, history of architecture, and thanks to Contarini's position, the contacts between this practical knowledge and the academic world, are the research fields in reference to which this collection best expresses its relevance.

Collection of Historical Sources on Naval Sciences

This collection is related to the history of Naval Architecture, specifically on methods and practices of ship design and construction.

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