Seas of Knowledge: Digitization and Retrospective Analysis of the Historical Logbooks of the United States Navy

Material Description

The project will focus on the logbooks of United States naval vessels, associated muster rolls, and selected related material (e.g. diaries, photographs) for the period 1861–1879 (and overlapping range within 1801–1940). Together the logbooks and muster rolls supply a complete list of the ship’s complement; the latter contains name, rate (or contraband), age, place of enlistment, place of birth, physical description, discharge/transfer/death, and miscellaneous remarks. Logbooks contain sub-daily resolution descriptions of events on board ship, and hourly instrumental weather and ocean measurements. They contain matter-of-fact documentation of the actions taken by the ship at sea, and by the company ashore, both routine and extraordinary. They list the names of ships encountered, disciplinary actions, the number of sick and injured, consumption of expendables (fuel, water, rations). Most importantly today the logbooks are a unique source of historical marine-meteorological data and the metadata essential for the interpretation of this and a wide range of associated material, including georeference, station indexes to field note books, and technical specifications of instruments employed and methods of use. These logbooks represent the most detailed first-hand record of the navigable world, as it was seen while U.S. naval vessels pursued their varied missions throughout the nation’s history – for defense, diplomacy, science and exploration, and for many other reasons.


Nearly everything we know about the world ocean prior to the satellite era can be linked to a single document type: the ship’s logbook. Other primary documents, including muster rolls, field note books, photographs and artwork, often depend on this link for context and interpretation. This project will digitize the logbooks and muster rolls of U.S. naval vessels (1861-1879), and selected related assets between 1801 and 1940. Beyond imaging, we recover geospatial reference, weather and ocean data, and other historical information through Old Weather, our citizen-science program. These data will be suitable for computationally intensive retrospective analysis (reanalysis) systems and for enhancing the discoverability and application of information from the logbooks. Images and data will be integrated into existing national and international data infrastructure. Large-scale manuscript-to-digital data conversion has great potential to foster new scientific and historical understanding and provides enhanced access to our shared maritime and cultural heritage.


Digitizing Hidden Collections

Amount Awarded


Year Added



University of Washington


  • Dr. Kevin Wood (University of Washington)
  • Mr. Mark Mollan
  • Mr. Patrick Madden

Collaborating Institution(s)

National Archives and Records Administration; National Archives Foundation

Date Range

1801 - 1801

Geographic Scope

The geographic range of the source material covers the navigable world, from the polar regions to the tropics, and extends vertically from the sea-surface into the atmosphere and in some cases to the depths of the sea.


  • 5130 Manuscripts