From short-sea to deep-ocean shipping, humans have used maritime trade networks since prehistoric times, but there have been no attempts to study the processes involved in the establishment of the logistics that sustained these networks. Taking advantage of the extensive data from different disciplines available for the late-14th to early-17th centuries and using an integrated approach that emphasizes the entanglement between ships, ports, and the environment, this project will analyze the mechanisms upon which the shipping network of the Southeast Asian branch of the Maritime Silk Road developed from a regional to a trans-regional network where goods, people and ideas travelled astonishingly long distances while transforming communities along the way.

This will be done by following three main objectives: first, to analyze the role of nautical technology in the development of trade networks; second, to identify the key services and infrastructures that serviced the ships and facilitated trade; and third, to determine the impact of the environment on the shipping network and trading activities.

Applying an interdisciplinary and multidimensional research approach using data from history, archaeology and ethnography, this project seeks to unpack the complex phenomena behind the establishment of shipping networks using the Southeast Asian branch of the Maritime Silk Road as a case study. Expected results will emphasize the multiple actors and factors involved in the establishment of maritime trade routes, and will provide a new theoretical and methodological framework for the study of these phenomena from a functional perspective of how shipping actually worked in the past.


Image: View of Hong Kong c. 1880s by John Thompson, courtesy of Wellcome Library.