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New dissertation about life on board

“The ship society: Rank, roles and status on warships during the 17th century.” This is the name of the dissertation written by Patrik Höglund, one of the Museum of Wreck’s own maritime archaeologists. On 1 October, he received his Ph.D. in the subject from Södertörn University. His day job consists of diving for the museum and serving as the research coordinator for the national museum authority.

“I’ve tried to understand what people were really doing on the ships – at work, at rest and in battle. And I’ve studied how status was expressed on board through spaces, possessions and other things,” a contented Höglund says.

He has long wanted to know more about the social conditions aboard warships, so when the interdisciplinary project “Ships at War” was launched at Södertörn University he felt it was meant to be. His dissertation is about the many people on board a ship – the ship society – a 17th-century society in miniature.

Life on board

During wartime, several hundred men could usually be found on board a large warship. Besides officers and seamen, the ship accommodated soldiers, priests, scribes, cooks, farmhands and cabin boys. What did all these people with different roles and professions do on board? Where did they live? What did they eat?

“I had already written some essays and articles on the subject,” Höglund says. “During my time as a maritime archaeologist, I often came across interesting information that raised questions, which sparked a desire to have time to compile and analyse them.”

By compiling and analysing archaeological and historical source materials, he has gained new knowledge. He has also carefully examined models, paintings and other sources.

Surprising insights

Höglund was surprised that it was actually possible to obtain information about most of the groups on board. Another insight was the huge role of land troops on board. Without the army and the “specialists” – drummers, scribes, barbers and priests – the ship’s society simply could not have functioned in wartime.

“What I found astonishing was that officers and certain specialists, the so-called cabin people, occupied such a disproportionate amount of space – not just the people themselves but even their possessions.”

Höglund is thrilled to finally be able hold the finished book in his hands. He also recently received a research award in Jan Glete’s memory from the Swedish Society for Maritime History for his dissertation.