Boatbuilding and urban genesis

Knowledge creation and transfer in traditional boatbuilding craft


  • Jasna Sersic University of Antwerp


Emneord (Nøkkelord):

Boatbuilding, knowledge production, creativity, Craft tradition, Intangible heritage


Traditional boatbuilding today is a fading craft, raising questions of not only how to preserve this craft and reconstruct and transmit the knowledge and skills related to it to future generations but also, considering new technologies and available materials, why its preservation and perpetuation are important. Answering these questions requires a valorisation framework for the traditional boatbuilding craft and its methods of construction, considering the fact that traditional boatbuilding is the essence of modern shipbuilding and inextricably linked to the development and transmission of knowledge in city making too. To help create this framework, this paper addresses two distinct ways of thinking involved in making boats: one tied to boats made from already existing models or designs and the other to boats created ex nihilo with the help of sesto and garbo tools. Through a historical and theoretical examination and by building on the empirical case study of traditional boatbuilding in wood in the Mediterranean, this paper explores the concept of constructing boats ex nihilo in the technical, socio-economic, and spatial sense, shedding the light on the creativity inherent in shipbuilding and its implications. This paper will contribute to understanding how knowledge transmission in traditional boatbuilding has progressed and the role this knowledge model can play in shipbuilding development, offering a valuable resource also for those interested in development and transmission of alternative models of knowledge production.


Jasna Sersic, University of Antwerp

Postdoctoral researcher


Adams, J. (2001). Ships and boats as archaeological source material. World Archaeology, 32(3), 292–310.

Adams, J. (2013). A maritime archaeology of ships: Innovation and social change in medieval and early modern Europe (1st ed.). Oxbow Books.

Anderson, A. (2010). The origins and development of seafaring: Towards a global approach. In A. Anderson, J. Barrett, & K. Boyle (Eds.), The global origins and development of seafaring (pp. 3–16). McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

Amin, A., & Roberts, J. (2008). Community, economic creativity, and organization. Oxford University Press.

Bonazzi, M. (2023). Il naufragio di Ulisse: Un viaggio nella nostra crisi [The shipwreck of Ulysses: A journey into our crisis.]. Einaudi.

Bogdanović, B. (1966). Urbanističke mitologeme [Urban mythologems]. Vuk Karadžić.

Camilleri, A. (2019). Conversazione su Tiresia [Conversation on Tiresias]. Selerio Editore.

Cantarella, E. (2004). Itaca [Ithaca]. Feltrinelli.

Cantarella, E. (2010). Sopporta, cuore: La scelta di Ulisse [Endure, heart: Ulysses' choice]. Laterza.

Cantarella, E. (2011). I miti di fondazione [The foundation myths]. Laterza.

Evans, R. (2000). The projective cast: Architecture and its three geometries. MIT Press.

Knapp, B. A. (2018). Seafaring and seafarers in the bronze age Eastern Mediterranean. Sidestone Press.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press.

Nowacki, H., & Lefèvre, W. (Eds.). (2009). Creating shapes in civil and naval architecture: A cross-disciplinary comparison. Brill Academic Pub.

Nowacki, H., & Valleriani, M. (Eds.). (2003). Shipbuilding practice and ship design methods from the Renaissance to the 18th century: A workshop report. Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte.

McEwen, I. K. (1993). Socrates' ancestor: An essay on architectural beginnings. MIT Press.

Oleson, J. P. (2014). The evolution of harbor engineering in the ancient Mediterranean world. In S. Ladstätter, F. Pirson, & T. Schmidts (Eds.), Harbors and harbor cities in the Eastern Mediterranean from antiquity to the Byzantine period: Recent discoveries and current approaches (pp. 509–522). Ege Yayinlari.

Patai, R. (1998). The children of Noah: Jewish seafaring in ancient times. Princeton University Press.

Polanyi, M., & Sen, A. (2009). The tacit dimension. University of Chicago Press.

Pomey, P. (2011). Defining a ship: Architecture, function and human space. In A. Catsambis, B. Ford, & D. L. Hamilton (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of maritime archaeology (pp. 25–46). Oxford University Press.

Steffy, R. J. (1994). Wooden ship building and the interpretation of shipwrecks. Texas A & M University Press.

Sersic, J. (2015). The craftsmen's labyrinth and geographies of creativity (Geographica 7). Kulturgeografiska Institutionen.

Sersic, J., & De Munck, B. (2023). The emergence of cartographic reasoning in a long-term perspective: Urban knowledge, craft corporations and body politics. In B. De Munck, & J. Lachmund (Eds.), Politics of urban knowledge. Historical perspectives on the shaping and governing cities (pp. 29–55). Routledge.

Rieth, E. (2009). ‘To design’ and ‘to build’ medieval ships (fifth to fifteenth centuries) – the application of knowledge held in common with civil architecture, or in isolation? In H. Nowacki, & W. Lefèvre (Eds.). Creating shapes in civil and naval architecture: A cross-disciplinary comparison (pp. 164–192). Brill Academic Pub.

drawing in ink by Vlado Sersic




Hvordan referere

Sersic, J. (2023). Boatbuilding and urban genesis: Knowledge creation and transfer in traditional boatbuilding craft. FormAkademisk, 16(4).

Cited by