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Shipboard Lighting: A.D. 400-1900

Kendra LeeAnne Quinn
Thesis: December 1999
Chair: Dr. Donny L. Hamilton


From A.D. 400-1900, illumination was gained by simply lighting a fibrous wick soaked in a burnable fuel. Yet, this basic technology played an integral part in the every day functioning of ships. Vessels which either sailed through the night or conducted evening meals and prayers by lamp or candle light, typically traveled longer distances in fewer days than those which limited all activities to daylight hours. After 1500, ships became increasingly larger which also elevated the amount of illumination needed for work below decks even when the sun was shining.

An understanding of how illumination was used on ships would give a clearer picture of how shipboard life was conducted. This thesis will, therefore, bring relevant material about lighting on ships together in a comprehensive analysis. Three main areas of interest will be examined using information from the archaeological and historical records: 1) technological developments and lighting trends through out the period, 2) locations and types of the implements used, and 3) how sun light may have been directed into the hold to reduce the risk of fire. With these details, another portion of ship board life will come, as they say, to light.

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