The proposed project aims to conduct the first long-term analysis of freight transport practices on the Rhine from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth century. The focus on freight transport practices represents a third way of using sources of preindustrial trade and transport, alongside the cliometric study of transportation and the ‘traditional’ historiography of commerce and trade. The analysis of freight transport practices entails a shift of focus to the ‘in-between’ space that had to be traversed to bring goods from the producer to the consumer.
The proposed project is the first to target the ‘in-between’ space in early modern riverine transport at a large scale and in a transnational research setting. The project implements this novel approach by means of a comprehensive analysis of the customs registers of the Schenkenschans (1630-1810), a fortress and customs station located on the Rhine near the Dutch-German border. The project integrates machine-learning based methods for handwritten text recognition in the construction of a comprehensive annotated database of the SSZ that allows discerning freight transport practices at the level of the carriers of trade (micro), the Rhine transport system (meso) and the early modern economy (macro).
The project will make an essential contribution to the transnational economic history of the Rhine in the early modern period. First, the project will produce novel insights into the impact of tariffs, privileges and trade barriers on early modern freight transport practices. Second, a quantitative analysis of shipping and trade on the Rhine as well as a long-term analysis of transportation patterns and strategies will produce further insights into the logistics of freight transport in the early modern period. Third, the project will be the first to apply the notion of industriousness to shipmasters' operations, arguing that changes in the speed of shipping, the organisation of ship movements, and the cargoes carried may be interpreted as evidence of industriousness in Rhine shipping.
The project will make its workflow and data available to all. In this way, the project aims to become a relevant starting point for processing similar historical data sources that may already be available in digital format, but still await comprehensive historical analysis.