The World Seastems project aims to map and to analyze the changing spatial pattern of the world economy across 300 years from a maritime perspective. It will exploit untapped vessel movement data on a world scale since 1734, date of the first publication of Lloyd’s List.
Such data offer disaggregated information on weekly inter-port flows with detailed descriptions of vessels as well as their dates of departure and arrival at world’s ports. Despite the vital importance of maritime transport for economic development and international trade, no research has been done on the long-term evolution of the global maritime network.
There are three main goals of the project.
First, it will map for the first time the spatial distribution of almost 300 years of maritime flows in a dynamic and interactive manner. A geomatics visualisation platform will also integrate advanced analytical tools to simplify the pattern of shipping routes and corridors, and to extract meaningful information from the original data, with both scientific and pedagogical outcomes.
Second, the project will look at the topological and spatial structure of the global network of inter-port links with reference to graph theory, social network analysis, and complex networks. The global properties of the network can be compared with general models of networks, while the evolution of macroscopic measures will be explored in relation with wider structural and conjectural changes in the world system (e.g. conflicts, revolutions, crises, territorial reconfigurations) in terms of network expansion, shrinkage, concentration and polarization. Internally, the search for tightly connected substructures (i.e. clusters, communities of ports, économies-mondes) will focus on the emergence of world regions and regional integration processes.
Finally, we will examine the co-evolution of maritime flows and urban/regional development and compare the growth trajectories of port and non-port cities based on their situation in the combined sea-land network.
In a multidisciplinary fashion, the project questions both the contribution and the resilience of port activities and shipping routes to the transformations of the world system and economy from the local level to the global level. It will provide novel results about world systems theory, network theory, and location theory.