Routes of Power: European Colonial Maritime Routes (1700‒1850)

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Routes of Power: European Colonial Maritime Routes (1700‒1850)

Over the past two centuries, the oceans have been the stage for many thousands of ships from the world's great powers, carrying passengers and precious cargo. Countries such as Great Britain, France, Spain, and the Netherlands dominated the maritime routes during the colonial period of the 18th and 19th centuries. These traders and explorers sailed the seas, moving from land to land. The vastness of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans bore witness to their voyages.

The only navigation known at that time was a detailed notebook to understand the seas, understand the changing weather, follow the direction of the wind and waves. Ocean travel was so different from what we know today.

But recently these logbooks have been re-documented by the University of Madrid with funding from the United Nations to turn them into more accessible digital data.

In these records, the Netherlands has the most diaries of any country. However, this does not guarantee that the Netherlands had the most colonial territory. The researchers explained that many of these countries' diaries could not be digitized, and thousands were lost. However, at least these records are able to provide an overview of the shipping routes of major European countries.


This country used the many ports in Europe to facilitate its relations with other countries, such as the United States, Canada, and India (which was not yet independent). The most famous shipping map of this country is the Triangular Trade Route. This route was used to transport slaves from the African region to the USA. In addition, this route was also used to ship goods to and from other countries, such as cotton, sugar, and tobacco sent from Europe to the US. Then there were textiles, weapons, and wine sent from Europe to the British colonies.


Spain was the most visible country on the routes around South America. There were also several Spanish shipping routes that connected Spanish colonies in the Pacific. Spain was also a supplier of raw materials such as gold, silver, tobacco, and cotton.


The records owned by the French maritime are the least compared to other countries. One of the records that France had and later digitized was the Atlantic Ocean shipping route to the Caribbean and Canada. This route became the most used route for travel and trade. This route was often used to transport raw materials and spices. France is also famous for having many colonies, including in the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean, and West Africa. In fact, in the late 18th century, the French colony of Saint-Domingue, now known as Haiti, became one of the wealthiest colonies in the world.

The Netherlands

As mentioned, the Netherlands is the country with the most detailed records, and it is clear that it had the most extensive reach of any country. The routes owned by the British included the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), Cape Colony (now South Africa), and Guiana in South America.

On the other hand, there are interesting findings from this route, which belongs to the Netherlands. Researchers at Leiden University call this royal route the "string of pearls". This is because the kingdom's shipping centers stretched along the coast of the continent, illustrating that the kingdom was focused on dominating the maritime world. This is reflected in the kingdom's trading company in the Dutch East Indies, which was a world trading power at the time.


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