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A Study of the Cultural Adaptation in Pram-Class Boatbuilding in the Netherlands

Robert Stephen Neyland
Dissertation: August 1994
Chair: Carlson

This study traces the development of an ancient class of Northern European watercraft, called pram. The term pram-class is used herein to refer to a broad range of flat-bottomed, hard-chine work boats and freighters. The vessels categorized as pram-class are also known by a variety of local names, but share a characteristic construction justifying their collective analysis.

Pram-class watercraft can be found throughout much of Northern Europe, however it is the archaeological remains of pram-class vessels from the Netherlands that are principally analyzed here. Prams and pram-class vessels span the Late Middle Ages through the twentieth century, but vessels built with some of the pram's characteristics date to the late Roman occupation along the Rhine. As a long-lived type of watercraft, prams provide an opportunity to study technological continuity and change in boatbuilding over the formative centuries of Western history.

The theoretical approach applied to this study is that of cultural adaptation. Within this approach, special attention is focused upon the technological adaptation exhibited in pram-class construction. This analysis views boat design and water transportation as determined by several interrelated and interdependent factors; factors that include economics, technology, culture, access to resources, and the physical environment.

Two hypotheses are applied to the history of prams. The first hypothesis considers the specific development and use of pram-class vessels to be the result of a number of influences, which are primarily cultural, economic, technological, and resource factors. These interrelated and interdependent factors exist as parts of a system of information feedback loops, which influenced the building and continued employment of pram-class vessels. The second hypothesis states the more general view that technological continuity and change result from the process of cultural factors, as well as access to resources and the physical environment, act to stimulate technological innovation or reinforce continuity.

The historic development of pram-class vessels is closely tied to the development of the local economy. Changes in the local economy during cycles of prosperity and crisis influenced the quantity of prams produced and the manner in which they were built. The history of Dutch pram-class boats thus demonstrates technological adaptation in response to several factors. Factors in water transportation in turn influenced cultural and economic adaptations.

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