How to Build a Warship
: Naval Shipbuilding Knowledge Transfer in 18th Century Europe

  • Ida Christine Jørgensen

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Despite maritime scholars broadly accepting that eighteenth-century shipbuilding was an international trade, the knowledge transferred between naval powers have never been specifically studied. This thesis analyses three different methods of shipbuilding knowledge transfer: foreign dockyard visits, studying prizes, and foreign employment. Through written evidence of these methods, the processes of obtaining foreign shipbuilding knowledge are analysed. Additionally, a new method – specially created for this research – analyses the implementation of foreign knowledge in warships by digitally comparing ship plans. As such, this thesis treats knowledge transfer and knowledge utilisation separately. Because foreign shipbuilding knowledge transfer is here studied in a theoretical framework, it allows analysis of the quality and applicability of the acquired knowledge. The subsequent study of utilisation further reveals how different qualities of knowledge were implemented. Focussing on three naval powers — Britain, France, and Denmark — this research includes navies facing very different political circumstances, from raging war to relative peace. Furthermore, while each navy, pressed by the instable political climate, required advanced warships, to this end, they obtained foreign shipbuilding knowledge in various ways. Shipbuilding was also administered and practically approached in different ways, ultimately affecting foreign knowledge utilisation. This thesis provides an in-depth analysis of the international naval shipbuilding trade, and in doing so it challenges common conceptions, including: war being a driving factor in technical development; that some methods of foreign shipbuilding knowledge transfer were superior to others; and a general lack of development in eighteenth-century warships. Ultimately, by bringing together methods from history and maritime archaeology, this thesis demonstrates how foreign shipbuilding knowledge was transferred and utilised according to the idiosyncratic natures of the three navies in question; all in an attempt to improve their fleets, and with a constant search for further inspiration on how to build a warship.
    Date of Award8 Feb 2023
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorCathryn Pearce (Supervisor), David Andress (Supervisor) & Patricia Shamai (Supervisor)

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