Trawling and the Local Press (1899)

I know I forgot to post last week, but it turned out that we were a little busy… The fieldschool ended early, so we upped sticks from sunny Bagenkop and made our way back to Esbjerg – a day of packing, cleaning and travelling. On returning I found a room full of spiders and a to-do list a yard long – starting with a spring/summer clean. Having recuperated from this oh-so-arduous week, I have just begun exploring newspaper archives. This though had not occurred to me before Chris Vening, my lone commenter, brought it up in reference to some of the more bizarre patent applications I described earlier in the year.

I started with the first article that came in my search, the earliest that popped up, from the Newcastle Courant, October 4th 1899. Entitled “A Northumberland Trawling Trip”, a rather quaint piece that begins with the popular superstition about the use of the word ‘pig’ on boats (very bad luck, it appears). I am sure that someone, somewhere, has compiled all the superstitions – I’m guessing it isn’t a short work…

The author, Mr Alexander Meek, MSc, goes on to describe the beam trawl, a 22 foot wooden beam with curved iron shoes at either end. The steam trawler is out for an experiment, it seems, and Mr Meek is apparently delighted when the juvenile fish are thrown back and swim away “none the worse for their journey aboard the trawler”. The experiment consists of dragging small nets form the beam and on the surface, made of ‘a muslin-like material, called “wireino”’. An iron hoop keeps the open, and the catch made is of interest to all. The catch is designated to specimen status, and kept in bottles to await further study.

The whole experiment is to be subject to statistical and biological study, or as the author notes, for ‘the naturalist’ department – a term sadly out of use, I think. The author views the whole experience with a romantic air, being rather taken in with the whole trip, often describing the whole affair in somewhat poetic terms. But his is clearly an enthusiastic supporter of trawling and trawlers, having clearly enjoyed his experience.

I won’t post the article itself (it’s a pay-per-view service), but the link is here.

I’ll admit I spent a lot of my day not doing trawling stuff, but total stationing. I and my two lovely instructors spent an afternoon the total station and a 3D modelling software used a lot in archaeology, called Rhino. Massimiliano is the lovely lad with the locks, while Alex, being Belgian, is naturally referred to as Tintin.

The ultimate is to reproduce the anchor, in 3D. The total station is accurate in recording points to the millimeter; it can also be used to reference in objects with GPS so we not only know exactly what something looks like, but also where it is (or was – all rather important to archaeology, when so many things are so easily lost or destroyed). Data like this can be used for many things – one of things the Maritime Archaeology students learn here is how to use it to calculate hydrostatics and other important boaty-type stuff. I’m no good at hydrostatics, so I use it to get a really good 3D sense of an object – or ship construction – that I would otherwise assess from complex 2D media, like photographs, drawings and measurements. The students, when not tutoring their elders, have been working their way through the museum’s collection of 19th and 20th century fishing vessels, recording them for posterity. Next project for me? An actual boat, or even some lovely trawl doors…

What the Internet Thinks it Knows…

As I sit here playing on the internet, it occurs to me that it has been a long time since I played with Ngram viewer.

But first, what is Ngram and what does it do? Well, its a Google thing. Not being one for computers, I know that it is a bit like a search engine in that Google searches all the online texts that it can – every scanned book, ancient and modern.

You tell it what words or phrases you want to look for, then it presents you with a graph which shows the occurrence of every mention of that word or phrase throughout a particular time period – AD1800-2000 is the default, but it can be extended back further. If you put in more than one search word, Ngram will plot the results together for a proper comparison.

I originally used it, purely for fun, while avoiding an  enormous stack of papers that was required reading in order to write two pages on the Iberian-Atlantic shipbuilding tradition AD1400-1700. Needless to say, at the time I was inputting search terms like ‘treenail’, ‘rising wood’ and ‘futtock’ and other obscure historical shipbuilding terms. I could see the earliest texts that mentioned those words, and their frequency; ‘futtock’ was used with great frequency in the 1760’s, far more than at any other time. Not surprising, really – a lot of naval and nautical books and seaman’s guides were written during that time period. Treenail has a small spike in the 1810’s – although why I have no idea why.

But this time, I stray online with a different vocabulary – commercial fishing, anyone? So here goes…

‘Trawl door’ and ‘otter board’ are two phrases for the same thing, more or less. So which is more popular throughout the last century? Well, it would appear that ‘otter board’ is the clear favourite, with consistently more mentions from 1870 onward. ‘Trawl door’ seems to appears only from 1935 onwards.

‘Beam trawl’, ‘otter trawl’ and ‘bottom trawl’ is another gem; here the words ‘otter trawl’ and ‘midwater have some serious spikes. ‘Bottom trawl’ is the least mentioned – barely present from the 1880’s onwards before gaining a little popularity from 1960. ‘Beam trawl’, surprisingly, appears to gain popularity over the decades. I’m putting that one down to historical interest and research. ‘Otter trawl’ is very popular in the 1930’s and then the 1950’s – although I’m sure that is no surprise.

My favourite is the word ‘pelagic’ versus the word ‘midwater’. ‘Midwater’ has a small yet dedicated occurrence, but ‘pelagic’ is a winner, with this word being far more popular from the 1820’s onwards. Spikes in popularity can be seen in the 1900’s, 1940’s and the 1980’s. It’s nice to see that my research subject seems to be on the up and up!

*Note: Ngram only looks through stuff that is on the internet. The other problem is terms that cross over- searching ‘ship’ will also give you all the results for toys, space ships, naval vessels and so on. Picking obscure or extremely specific terms makes the difference. It also picks up on usage that is relevant, but isn’t – like history books.