Abstract: Lost in Calculation? Norwegian Merchant Shipping in Asia, 1870-1914

Camilla Brautaset and Stig Tenold


With the rise of global history since the 1990s, there has also been an increasing number of studies of encounters between the East and the West, particularly the encounters of the nineteenth century. Within the disciplines of economic and business history, a considerable part of the response to and within global history has been directed toward the opening up of Asian markets to foreign trade. However, only marginal attention has been paid to the exchange of services within the same context. This paper addresses this issue by exploring the Norwegian merchant fleet's engagement in the Asian markets for seaborne transport from the opening of the Suez Canal until the outbreak of World War I. Our point of departure is a broad set of contemporary quantitative and qualitative sources offering in-depth information on the engagement of Norwegian vessels in the international economy. The quantitative approach is based on two purpose-built databases, both based on contemporary, systematic collections of shipping statistics. The first database comprises an extensive data set collected by officials of Statistics Norway, offering key information on Norwegian vessels that were registered upon arrival or departure in Asian ports. The second database is established on the basis of registrations of Norwegian vessels' movements in Asia during ten-year intervals, covering the years 1882, 1892, 1902, and 1912, as published in the <i>Lloyd's Weekly Shipping Index</i>.