Maritime Blueprints before 1923

Project Director: Daniel Michelson

Source of Materials: Alfred Olcott Hudson River Steamboats Collection at the New York Historical Society, the John Lenthall Collection at the Independence Seaport Museum (Philadelphia), and the William Cramp & Sons Ship and Engine Building Company Collection at Independence Seaport.

The Maritime Blueprints Project will present blueprints of maritime vessels designed before 1923. Blueprints will be digitized and contextualized through the use of explanatory text and images. The initial group of roughly 1,600 blueprints will serve as a testbed for the process of digitizing and distributing formerly hard to find blueprints of interest to scholars and the large online community of maritime enthusiasts. The specific cutoff date of 1923 was chosen to avoid issues of copyright. More generally, ship plans from after the 1920s are more likely to be more available or at least in better condition than earlier blueprints.

Using New York University as the project headquarters and institutional base, the program will digitize blueprints onsite at various archives in the Northeastern United States. Based on the principle that it is better to build incrementally than start with a large-scale project, initial work will begin on three collections. The collections are the New-York Historical Society’s “Alfred Olcott Hudson River Steamboats Collection” and the Independence Seaport Museum’s “John Lenthall Collection” and “William Cramp & Sons Ship and Engine Building Company Collection.”

The long-term goal behind this project is to organize a group that will allow archives to avoid using vendors for blueprint digitization. Instead of a vendor, the Maritime Blueprints Project will be a group of specialists from a non-profit educational project. In other words, people who are “sensitive to the needs of cultural heritage institutions,” in the words of Lorna Hughes. This project will also harness the enthusiasm of the tidal wave of amateur historians that the rise of the internet has unleashed.

Alongside $50,000 grants from the Cruise Industry Charitable Foundation and the Link Foundation and a $15,000 grant from the Marine Society of the City of New York, the project seeks $350,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This will go towards a two-year $817,636 program.

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