Maritime Careers

This project focuses on the career prospectives of people in the East India Company. Our approach to uncover the link between migration and economic advancement centres on two aspects of what is generally referred to as job mobility: promotion and job switching. By identifying those individuals that during their careers experienced promotion and/or job switching we lay bare the extent to which human capital levels of migrants and native workers differed, and seek to explain what caused the differences.

We use data of the Dutch East India Company (VOC, 1602-1798), often dubbed the world’s first multinational, which at its height employed a nearly 60,000 people. The company kept meticulous records of its ships’ crews, registering among other things the names of sailors and soldiers, their places of birth, and rank. All surviving pay ledgers, containing c. 800,000 employment records, have been digitised in the VOC-opvarenden database. We use these data to trace maritime careers in the VOC and to investigate career mobility through modelling rank transitions and staff networks.

Through Survival Analysis, we determine what factors influenced a worker’s choice to continue or end his career. Also, we rely on Markov chains to compute transition probabilities between ranks to show whether people are likely to transition into new positions. We can, for example, measure how often an assistant barber-surgeon becomes a senior medical master or a sailor, and how often a ship’s boy becomes a quartermaster and from this generate likely career paths for different ranks. By pairing these transitions with additional information, such as whether people served on the same ship and/or transitioned together, information on the ship’s type and the ship’s captain, we can begin to unravel the factors playing a role in VOC maritime careers.

Melvin Wevers

I am a postdoctoral researcher in the Digital Humanities Lab at the KNAW Humanities Cluster. My research interests include the study of cultural-historical phenomena using computational means with a specific interest in the formation and evolution of ideas and concepts in public discourse. Oh, and I really like to study advertisements and consumer products.