Ship logs at NARA

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA, in the USA) hold an enormous number of historical records of value to climate research. Those holdings include many ship’s logbooks - many of which are available online as scanned images. I’d like to get a good picture of what logbook records are available from NARA.

The NARA catalog is available online through a web interface and this works well for finding and browsing individual logs (e.g. USS Jeannette in 1880) but to look at records in bulk we need to go beyond a point-and-click interface. NARA support such advanced use by making their entire catalog database available to download.

To use the catalog data we have to understand its structure, and it’s easy to study as each record is a single line of JSON (a text format) so we can read it directly. But it’s much easier if we pretty-print selected records to show the record structure explicitly.

With a clear idea of the record structure, we can then write code to make summaries of the records we are interested in, as spreadsheet (CSV) tables.

Then we can make summaries of selected sets of logbook records:

These are probably not all the logbook series at NARA - if you know of any others, please let me know. (I know of the Russian American Company logs, but they are only catalogued as a series, not as individual logs.)

This document is crown copyright (2021). It is published under the terms of the Open Government Licence. Source code included is published under the terms of the BSD licence. Catalog data used are taken from NARA and licensed as US Government work.