Friday, March 21, 2014

Reenvisioning 400 Years

The Way of the Ship: America’s Maritime History Reenvisioned, 1600-2000. / Alex Roland, W. Jeffrey Bolster, Alexander Keyssar. Published by John Wiley & Sons, 2008. 521 p., illustrations in both black and white and color. Included are a glossary, index, appendices and notes.

The Way of the Ship charts the growth of maritime America and its strengths in both overseas trade and inland transport.

The Way of the Ship is a treasury of essays written by professors of history and social policy at American universities. Their contributions articulate periods of the nation’s history in 45 chapters plus Conclusion and Epilogue. Supporting these are the section on notes, which are essentially a chapter by chapter bibliography, important by itself as a source of present-day literature on maritime history.

If you did not know much about United States history, reading The Way of the Ship would gain you a measure of knowledge about American economics and trade as increased by history’s powerful and influential mariners. Author Roland calls them “analytical threads” and describes these five as forming the backbone of the essays: economics, policy, labor, military, and technology.

The essays build American history chronologically and give a fascinating review of who held the reins in each era. five of the notable players were Elias Haskett Derby, in 1781 a newly minted American millionaire who invested in the New Republic; Robert Fulton, who pioneered inland steamship transport in the nation’s first 25 years; Henry Shreve, taking up the challenge after Fulton, reinvented Mississippi River trade from horse-drawn boats to steamboats; and Donald MacKay, iconic shipbuilder of clipper ships in Boston; all were influential in the nation’s economic expansion between 1781 and the American Civil War.

Each of the five parts of the book offers a title that summarizes the particular cultural consequence brought on by maritime commercial enterprise. Part I looks at the fledgling nation between 1600 and 1783; Part II covers 1783-1861, when the United States first tasted freedom as a nation and expanded during the Golden Age; Part III is dedicated to labor and the Gilded Age, from 1861-1914; Part IV is called “The Weight of War”, 1914-1956; Part V is devoted to cargo and bulk carriers on ever larger vessels called megaships.

There are four appendices displaying tables of data. For example you could look year by year from 1790-1994 for the values of U.S. cargo versus that from foreign nations. Or review maritime labor between 1925 and 2000. Or see the U.S. shipbuilding totals in any year from 1769-1968. There is also a glossary of shipping terms, and of course notes and an index.

This book is really textual in character, rather than a resource for images. Is it a reference text? Yes, to the extent that the book is chronologically arranged and its sections are listed with specific chapter headings: you could choose a time period from the section titles, then choose an appropriate topic. From there it is a matter of concentration on the message, both concise and full of detail. American maritime history is written with heroes leading the economic force inherent in a robust merchant marine.

There are illustrations, but far fewer than in an encyclopedic reference. Of the black and white illustrations many of these are maps. Color photographs represent maritime paintings by marine painter John Stobart. However, a photograph, p. 120, shows the statue by Howard Roberts of Robert Fulton, whose 1803 steamboat pioneered inland waterway steam-boating in the United States. Roberts’ statue now stands in the United States’ U.S. Capitol building’s Statuary Hall.

Books on sailing ships are selected from the Library collections at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum. More books are available in the collection than appear online. For example books on voyages and travel accounts, battles, and descriptions of historic ships are not listed online but are available at the Library. For more information view our catalog online at