Mapping the Diffusion of Imported Cloth into East Africa, c. 1830-1900

Kate Frederick

Cloth imports into East Africa, 1836-1900. Aggregated shipping records from MH 23, MH 235, MSS 901, and MSS 24 series (Peabody Essex Museum, Phillips Library), “Arrival and Departure of American Vessels,” RG 84, Records of Foreign Service Posts, Zanzibar, vol. 84 (National Archives and Records Administration), and government-published trade reports of Bombay and the United Kingdom. British and Indian sources include exports to both Zanzibar and Mozambique. American merchants in East Africa focused almost exclusively on Zanzibar-based trade.

The development of cotton textile production has formed the backbone of numerous industrial takeoffs, including Britain’s industrial revolution and, more recently, the catch-up of several East Asian countries. A seemingly perpetual disappointment of textile industries in East Africa, however, has prompted frequently renewed debates about the role that foreign competition may have played in impeding growth of existing domestic production in the region, particularly as East Africa increasingly opened up to global trade during the nineteenth century. However, insufficient empirical evidence has precluded substantive conclusions. My current project bridges the gap between theory and historical empirical reality to shed light on this piece of the African textile puzzle. Specifically, mapping the diffusion of foreign-produced cloth into nineteenth-century East Africa provides crucial insights into the nature of regional demand and consumption, along with related implications for domestic production Read more

Navigation in the Age of Robinson Crusoe

Jamie Bolker

Illustration from the ciphering book of Stephen Jenkins, 1823. Photo courtesy of the author.

As NPR reported in February, the US Navy wants to bring back the practice of celestial navigation, the antiquated art relying on complex calculations that has been handily replaced by GPS technology.  Since electronically assisted navigation over land and sea (and space) has become the norm, it is easy to forget how difficult traveling from point A to B was in centuries past. Read more

The Seafaring Young Family

Detail from the top of shipping articles for the Eureka, a bark mastered by Joseph A. Young

My name is James King and I interned at the Phillips Library this spring as part of my course work at Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science. My first task was to put my learning from class to the test and process the Young Family Papers, with the experienced help and guidance of Tamara Gaydos. This collection is on the somewhat smaller side, being 2.5 linear feet, but the amount of correspondence and meticulous accounts that have been kept really impressed me, especially from a time when these activities took a lot more time and effort to complete than in today’s technology-driven world. Read more