Fish and Ships

Weblog about pre-modern international trade in the North Atlantic

Welcome to the weblog about research into the late medieval and early modern international trade on the North Atlantic islands. It investigates the economic and cultural connections of merchants from Northern German cities, such as Bremen and Hamburg with the North Atlantic islands of Iceland, Shetland and Faroe during the 15th to 17th centuries. The research is based at the German Maritime Museum (Deutsches Schifffahrtsmuseum) in Bremerhaven in cooperation with the University of Highlands and Islands in Orkney. The research is carried out by four team members, each with their individual research objectives and disciplinary background. With this blog we want to provide information about the current state of our research, and create a platform to make available results and new knowledge. Read more...

Presentations about Hanseatic North Atlantic trade at Low German Science Slam

Hans Christian Küchelmann, 31 July 2023

Within this years Low German Language Festival “Platt Land Fluss” (Flat Land River) the Institut für Niederdeutsche Sprache (INS, Institute for Low German Language) organises a Low German Science Slam entitled “Höör to – fraag na – weet Bescheed!” (Listen – ask – know) on the 16th of September in Bremen.

Two lectures will present outputs of our research into Hanseatic North Atlantic trade respectively the projects “Between the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea” and “Looking in from the Edge” (LIFTE):

Mike Belasus
Was macht die Kuh auf dem Schiff!? Wie uns eine Auseinandersetzung mit Todesfolge vor 466 Jahren Details über die Konstruktion alter Bremer Handelsschiffe verrät
[What does the Cow on the Ship!? How a Quarrel with fatal Consequences 466 Years ago reveals Details about the Construction of ancient Bremen Merchant Ships]

Hans Christian Küchelmann
Der geheimnisvolle isländische Hase, der sich in einen Socken verwandelte
[The enigmatic Icelandic Hare, which turned into a Sock]

Event Details:
Science Slam
16. 9. 2023, 11:00-13:00
Institut für Niederdeutsche Sprache (INS)
Schnoor 41-43, 28195 Bremen
tel: +49-421-324535

Festival program

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1294 trade privilege between Norway, Bremen and Baltic towns declared part of the register “Memory of the World”

Hans Christian Küchelmann, 14 June 2023

On the 18th of May 2023 the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) included 17 documents related to the Hanseatic League into the register “Memory of the World” (MOW). The documents stem from archives in six countries (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Latvia and Poland). Documents from German archives are located in Braunschweig, Bremen, Hamburg, Köln and Lübeck. Particularly relevant for the Hanseatic North Atlantic trade is a trade privilege given by the Norwegian king to the town council of Bremen and the Baltic ports signed on the 6th of July 1294, the original of which is kept in the Staatsarchiv Bremen (signature StAB 1-Z 1294-Juli-6, see below). Likewise important are the legislative records of the Hanseatic League (Hanserezesse), which contain a lot of debates and decisions related to North Atlantic trade. The original copies of the Bremen town council from 1389-1517 are part of the MOW now as well.

For more information (in German) see:
Staatsarchiv Bremen

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Fish and Ships continues: new project about the international trade of Orkney and Shetland in the early modern period

Natascha Mehler, 27 March 2020

Over the past years, our research on the German trade with the North Atlantic islands has mainly focused on the exchange with Iceland. In the case of Shetland, however, much written and archaeological material exists which is of great potential to help uns understand the operation of international trade on the North Atlantic island. We therefore, we applied for a new grant in order to continue our work with Shetland. The project also addresses the question whether Orkney, which shares many characteristics with the other islands but hardly ever appears in the written sources, was also visited by German merchants in search of dried fish and if they did, to what extent and how this trade was organised. Finally, we will broaden our view to include other international (English, Dutch, Norwegian) traders in the area.

We are happy to announce that our team, together with other archaeologists and historians from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and the University of Lincoln have been awarded a grant of c. 900.000 Euros from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the German Research Foundation (DFG) to do this. Over the next three years, the members of the project “Looking in from the edge (LIFTE)” will look at a number of early modern documents, objects from archaeological excavations and also conduct fieldwork in Orkney and Shetland. This also means that we will continue blogging on Fish and Ships for more stories and short research reports about pre-modern trade in the North Atlantic. Stay tuned!

Here are the links to our announcements in English and in German, with further information.

Natascha Mehler surveying the trade booth at Gunnister Voe, Northmavine, Shetland. Photograph: Mark Gardiner.

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Razorbill in Bremen

Hans Christian Küchelmann, 20 March 2019

During excavations in 2011 in the former defense ditch of the city of Bremen huge amounts of animal bones have been found. The material has been analysed in the course of the Hanse Project since it contained a large amount of cod (Gadus morhua) bones. But there were also other interesting finds pointing to a trade connection with the North Atlantic. Of particular interest is a bone of a razor bill or lesser auk (Alca torda) with cut marks. This bird does not live on the North Sea coast and must have been brought to Bremen from North Atlantic regions e.g. from Shetland, Iceland, the Faroes or Northern Norway, probably as a by-product of the Bremen North Atlantic trade for stockfish.

Julia Schmidt, public relations officer of the Landesarchäologie Bremen, has written a blog about this find (in German) that can be accessed on the Facebook page of the Landesarchäologie.

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The cultural impact of German trade in the North Atlantic

Natascha Mehler, 19 October 2016

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the North Atlantic islands of Iceland, Shetland, and to some extent also Faroe, were closely tied to the cities of Bremen and Hamburg. Merchants from these hanseatic cities regularly travelled North to exchange goods such as grain / flour, beer, timber and tools for stockfish and sulphur. In the second half of the 16th century about 500 to 750 merchants, sailors, craftsmen, priests and others from Hamburg and Bremen spent their summers in Iceland. On the other hand, a considerable number of Icelanders used Hamburg and Bremen ships to travel to the continent, e.g. to be educated in jurisprudence or theology at the universities in Copenhagen, Rostock and Wittenberg. They brought back new knowledge that changed the insular societies.

The German presence on the islands and the stay of islanders in Northern Germany had a profound impact on the North Atlantic insular societies. Tracing this impact will be the main aim of an interdisciplinary research seminar that takes place from 26 to 28 October 2016 at the museum Schwedenspeicher in Stade near Hamburg. It is organized in cooperation with the archive Stade and the museum Schwedenspeicher Stade.

The main aim of this seminar is to trace and disentangle the forms of impact. The topics and questions we want to discuss during the seminar include:

  • What role did the German connections play in the assertion of the reformation in Iceland, Shetland and Faroe? What was the position of the Danish and Scottish crown? How did religious life change on the island?
  • What was the cultural effect of the reformation and how did the new scholarship change the insular societies? How did knowledge transfer happen?
  • What role did hanseatic measurements (e.g. the Hamburg ell) and coinage (e.g. Reichsthaler) play on the islands and how were their values converted into the Icelandic, Faroese and Shetland value system? Did the different value systems effect the economic connections?

For more information on the seminar click here to download the flyer for the cultural-impact-research-seminar.

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