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Nicolaes Witsen and Shipbuilding in the Dutch Golden Age

A. J. Hoving; Translated by Alan Lemmers; Foreword by André Wegener Sleeswyk

Publication Year: 2012

In 1671, Dutch diplomat and scientist Nicolaes Witsen published a book that served, among other things, as an encyclopedia for the “shell-first” method of ship construction. In the centuries since, Witsen’s rather convoluted text has also become a valuable source for insights into historical shipbuilding methods and philosophies during the “Golden Age” of Dutch maritime trade. However, as André Wegener Sleeswyk’s foreword notes, Witsen’s work is difficult to access not only for its seventeenth-century Dutch language but also for the vagaries of its author’s presentation. Fortunately for scholars and students of nautical archaeology and shipbuilding, this important but chaotic work has now been reorganized and elucidated by A. J. Hoving and translated into English by Alan Lemmers. In Nicolaes Witsen and Shipbuilding in the Dutch Golden Age, Hoving, master model builder for the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, sorts out the steps in Witsen’s method for building a seventeenth-century pinas by following them and building a model of the vessel. Experimenting with techniques and materials, conducting research in other publications of the time, and rewriting as needed to clarify and correct some vital omissions in the sequence, Hoving makes Witsen’s work easier to use and understand. Nicolaes Witsen and Shipbuilding in the Dutch Golden Age is an indispensable guide to Witsen’s work and the world of his topic: the almost forgotten basics of a craftsmanship that has been credited with the flourishing of the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Ed Rachal Foundation Nautical Archaeology Series


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Title Page

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p. iii


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xii

Whoever tries to master the text of Witsen’s Aeloude en Hedendaegsche Scheeps-bouw en Bestier (Ancient and Modern Shipbuilding and Management) soon discovers that the task is akin to finding one’s way in a decayed labyrinth, even if he or she reads seventeenth-century Dutch without difficulty. ...

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pp. xiii-xvi

A few words of gratitude are in order. This book is the product of many specialists who contributed to the project with dedication and enthusiasm. In the Dutch version, published in 1994 in Holland, I included a long list of people to whom I offered my sincere thanks, and I will repeat only the names of those who were important for this English edition...

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Chapter 1: Introduction

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pp. 1-33

This book is about seventeenth-century Dutch shipbuilding, a rather inaccessible field of research up to now. The earliest written sources appear only in the second half of the 1600s, known as Holland’s Golden Century. It is unfortunate that the fi rst Dutch book ever written on the subject is very impenetrable. ...

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Chapter 2: How Ships Are Built in Holland Today.

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pp. 35-201

The seventeenth-century Dutch shipbuilding method was a proportional system in which shipbuilders applied traditional formulas inherited from their predecessors. The treatises of Witsen (1671) and Van Yk (1697) provide two sets of such formulas, and their accuracy can generally be confirmed from the many ship specifications that are still in existence today. ...

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Chapter 3: Contracts as Historical Sources

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pp. 203-231

The data on the pinas, which we have seen in the previous chapter, could be called a contract. However, such elaborate contracts were rare. Strictly speaking, the contract was more than a collection of shipbuilding data. It was also a business contract in which costs and delivery date were stipulated. ...

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Chapter 4: Conclusion

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pp. 233-235

In the preceding chapters, the portion of Witsen’s treatise devoted to seventeenth-century shipbuilding was rearranged and explained where necessary (and possible, of course). As noted in chapter 1, this translated material represents only a fraction of the wide-ranging work, which goes far beyond the subject of shipbuilding. ...

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Appendix: Variations on Witsen

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pp. 237-249

No modern standard textbook exists for the study of historical Dutch shipbuilding, and scholars with an interest in the subject have long felt this omission. This work by A. J. Hoving is the first serious attempt to explain and render accessible one of the foremost seventeenth-century sources, Nicolaes Witsen’s Aeloude en Hedendaegsche Scheeps- bouw en Bestier...

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Table 1: Comparison of Witsen’s and Van Yk’s shipbuilding formulas.

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pp. 250-258

A key dimension in Witsen’s formulas is the width (thickness) of the inboard face of the stem, which was calculated as one inch for every ten feet of the ship’s total length. Almost half of Witsen’s formulas (about 46 percent) are based on the width of the inside stem. Van Yk’s formulas also use this reference point but to a much lesser degree (about 10 percent). ...

Table 2: Main dimensions, number of lasts, and last factors of early ships.

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pp. 259-261

Table 3: Witsen’s measurements for eight locations along the hull of the pinas.

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pp. 262-264

Table 4: Key to parts shown on the plans of the pinas (see plan drawings 1–5 following table).

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pp. 265-274

Drawing 1

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pp. 276-278

Drawing 2

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p. 279

Drawing 3

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pp. 280-282

Drawing 4

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pp. 282-284

Drawing 5

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p. 285


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pp. 287-295


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pp. 297-305


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pp. 307-309


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pp. 311-313

E-ISBN-13: 9781603444040
E-ISBN-10: 1603444041
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603442862
Print-ISBN-10: 1603442863

Page Count: 310
Illustrations: 313 b&w images. 9 tables. App. Bib. Index.
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Ed Rachal Foundation Nautical Archaeology Series
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OCLC Number: 821737715
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Nicolaes Witsen and Shipbuilding in the Dutch Golden Age

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Subject Headings

  • Witsen, Nicolaas, 1641-1717. Aeloude en hedendaegsche scheeps-bouw en bestier.
  • Shipbuilding -- Netherlands -- History -- 17th century.
  • Shipbuilding -- Netherlands -- Early works to 1800.
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