Category Archives: Trade

Peter Solar addresses Duanaire launch at NUI Galway

pic of Peter Solar

Professor Peter M. Solar addresses the launch event of Duanaire, on the topic ‘The Information Revolution in History”

Duanaire, a major new research platform at NUI Galway, was formally launched on April 14th 2015 at an event in the Hardiman Research Building. The event featured an address by the President of NUI Galway Dr James Browne, and a keynote talk by the distinguished economic historian Professor Peter M. Solar, of Vesalius College, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and Université Saint-Louis—Bruxelles.

Duanaire: a treasury of digital data for Irish economic history, is a collaborative venture between the Whitaker Institute, the Moore Institute, and the James Hardiman Library, all at NUI Galway. It is led by Dr Aidan Kane, and aims to build a unique digital archive of Irish economic history datasets, for the use of academic researchers, students, and wider public audiences.

The launch event was opened and chaired by Professor Marie-Louise Coolahan of the School of Humanities at NUI Galway. Professor Coolahan is a specialist in 17th women’s writing, and leads a major digital humanities project in this field, funded by the European Research Council (ERC). Professor Coolahan gave Duanaire a warm welcome, and spoke of the many opportunities for the diverse projects underway in this space at NUI Galway to learn from each and collaborate in the future.

Pic of Professor Marie Louise Coolahan

Professor Marie-Louise Coolahan, NUI Galway, School of Humanities, chaired the Duanaire launch.


The President of NUI Galway, Dr James Browne, addressed the launch event, and spoke particularly of how the Duanaire project chimes with NUI Galway’s new strategic plan Vision 2020: facing the future with ambition. Dr Browne has taken a particular interest in the core flagship project currently underway at Duanaire, the ‘Customs 15’ project, which aims to capture and analyse a large dataset from a unique set of records of Ireland’s international trade in the 18th century.

pic of NUI Galway President James Browne

The President of NUI Galway, Dr James Browne, at the Duanaire launch event.

The President related Duanaire’s work to the excellent infrastructure now in place at NUI Galway for research and research-led teaching in the area of digital humanities, as reflected in the new Hardiman Research Building itself, and the increasingly important role of the James Hardiman Library within the university community in enabling digital scholarship. The President thanked the Galway University Foundation for their support for Duanaire, and for the Foundation’s support more generally for the University’s ambitious agenda.


pic of Aidan Kane

Dr Aidan Kane (economics at NUI Galway) presents Duanaire at the project launch.

The director of Duanaire, Dr Aidan Kane, gave a short presentation on the key ambitions of Duanaire, and in relation to the 18th century trade data project, emphasising that a multi-faceted endeavour of this sort has to be collaborative, acknowledging in this respect the institutional support of the Whitaker and Moore Institutes, and of the James Hardiman Library. This support will continue to be vital in providing key infrastructures, especially for the curation of digital data, and for linking Duanaire into wider international networks of expertise and scholarship.

The keynote address was given by the distinguished economic historian, Professor Peter M. Solar, of Vesalius College, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and Université Saint-Louis—Bruxelles. Professor Solar is a key figure in economic history scholarship, having made seminal contributions to the study of Irish economic history, and in particular, of the pre-Famine economy, alongside extensive work related to wider themes in economic history, including the evolution of textiles industries in Europe, and especially in recent years, maritime economic history.

Professor Solar spoke on ‘The information revolution in history’, detailing the transformation in the computer technologies available to historians—and economic historians in particular—for managing and processing vast amounts of data. He cautioned however, that this by itself did not necessarily transform economic history scholarship substantively.

He argued that we must as economic historians understand how data came to be collected in the first place, and document these processes carefully. It is problematic if and when datasets are made readily available without being well-documented—they may be at least incomplete, and sometimes misleading. Scholars will always need to appreciate and understand the gaps in, and limitations of the data, and be aware of biases, which are not self-evident in datasets themselves. Professor Solar spoke of the great opportunities for scholars in drawing upon the expertise of wide public communities interest in history, not least in the rich knowledge of local historical societies, by using new digital tools to ‘crowd-source’ data itself, and knowledge about data, and the relevant historical contexts.

NUI Galway was delighted to welcome to this event our distinguished keynote speaker, a range of faculty and students from across disciplines, and many visitors to the campus, in order to launch this important initiative.

A brief look at a year (1754) in Ireland’s trade: Part 1

This is the first in what will be a series of occasional brief notes on Ireland’s trade from the 1680s up until the 1820s. It uses the sources of CUST15 and trade ledgers from the 1680s which are currently being digitised. The idea behind this note is to take a random year and detail what Ireland’s external trade was at that point in time, thus show just what can be done with the digitised data. Other notes may look at other years, explore trends in individual ports or look at the trends for a particular commodity or market over the 140 years.

 What was happening in 1754?
To provide something of a context for the patterns of trade in 1754 this section will give a quick overview of what was happening in Ireland in that year. In terms of external trade the total value of Ireland imports and exports amounted in 1754 to £3.685 million (or very roughly €875 million in today’s money). The balance of trade was negative as the value of imports exceeded that of exports by £21,000. The economic backdrop was that Ireland was in the midst of one of those periodic recessions which regularly hit, with several bank closures occurring that year and complaints about a lack of coinage. There were low prices for agricultural produce and textiles and emigration to the American colonies from Ulster was on the increase.
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More images from our 18th century Irish trade data project

Via slideshare, a presentation about our 18th century Irish trade data project.

This has more images of the source documents, showing how consistently structured they are over the decades. Also, a few slides towards the end about some of the technology tools we’re playing with in anticipation of capturing the full dataset.

Sample charts of data on the tonnage and shipping of Ireland, by port, 1719–1764

I’ve updated content for the CUSTOMS15 18th century Irish trade project, which is joint work between Patrick A Walsh, Eoin Magennis, and myself, with:

This is our first real cut at getting trade-related data at the port , rather than national, level. Even though it is work-in-progress, a little background  to the work is appropriate, well in advance of a fully documented dataset.

The core trade data in the sources, i.e., detailed quantities and values of commodities imported and exported, are each year typically supplemented by tables with trade-related information. Each of the annual ledgers seem to have a one-page table on the tonnage and shipping of Ireland. These tables are so well and consistently structured, that their essence can be grasped fairly immediately. Click to zoom in on the image:

Image of tonnage and shipping table from Customs 15 ledgers (UK National Archives) Vol. 17 (for the year ended 25th March 1714)

300 years old, useful, and beautiful: the tonnage and shipping table from the Customs 15 ledgers from the UK National Archives, Vol. 17 (for the year ended 25th March 1714).

We see, for any given year, the number of ships in total, the number of ships for each port, tonnage also at national and port level, with tonnage distinguished further by (what we take to be) the country or region of origin of the owners of shipping. The numbers are uncomplicated, in being in either units of ‘ships’ or ‘tons’ (with the occasional fraction of a ton). So, data-entry is fairly easy. Tonnage data is totalled across rows and down columns, which makes data-checking straightforward too.

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