So in Sci Fi we have this tendency to want to compare ship designations to modern sea faring ships. It dawned on me that this is probably completely wrong. Even though we want to refer to warships as destroyers and cruisers, those are all terms that didn't even really exist for ships a hundred and fifty years ago. The naming of ships changes drastically over time, especially every time there is a huge jump in design. Historically there are all sorts of sailing ships with specific designations based on design like galley, galleon, caravel, schooner, junk (the ship, not actual junk). The list is almost endless.

With that in mind I am wanting to come up with new designating terms for the spacefaring ships in my book, but I want to tie them somewhat to old seafaring ships. Primarily, I want there to be valid reasons why they are related, (such as number of sails comparing to number of thrusters, or maybe relating solar powered craft to oar ships).

Even though it is fairly straight forward to find actually specifications on an individual ship's design, I am having trouble finding more details on the evolution of ships as a whole. Of course I can find information for specific regions, or look up the historical details of a specific ship type, but I haven't found any websites that actually have any sort of outline of how ship design progressed throughout history around the world.

Is there any website that would include detailed information on this sort of subject?

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    $\begingroup$ They most definitely had destroyers and cruisers one hundred years ago. And while two hundred years ago they did not have destroyers (because there were no toperdo boats for the toperdo-boat destroyers to destroy), they did have cruisers. And destroyer and cruiser are roles, while galley, galleon, schooner and junk are basic building plans; for example, two hundred years ago cruisers (the role) were either ship-rigged frigates or schooners (the building plans). In most space opera military SF, they use the designations as indication of ship size: destroyers are small, battleships are big. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 3 '19 at 8:19
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for correcting my timeline, but an extra fifty years still doesn't change my point very much. I have corrected my post though. $\endgroup$ Feb 4 '19 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ I suspect you're missing a critical factor here: while older ship types seem somewhat exotic now, they were no more exotic at the time than terms like "destroyer" and "cruiser" are to us. As far as can be determined, for instance "junk" originated from a word that simply meant "ship". $\endgroup$ Feb 4 '19 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ Will this futuristic society come from Earth? $\endgroup$ Feb 5 '19 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ @GarretGang Yes and no. They are descended from Earth, but Earth itself is dead. $\endgroup$ Feb 5 '19 at 22:23

Rocketpunk Manifesto had a post years ago (which I sadly have not been able to find again) which spoke about this in terms of transliterating ship classes to space. Sadly, in our time, we tend to use modern or semi modern idioms like "destroyer" for space going warships without really considering the origin of the name or the purpose of the ship. (For those interested, "Destroyer" is a contraction for "Torpedo boat destroyer", as the ship was conceived to defend capital ships from marauding torpedo boat attacks).

One thing which I did remember as being interesting about the post was there are large periods of time where even though certain types of ships were very important, we no longer maintain any sort of institutional memory, largely because the type of ship or the nature of the mission was superseded over the centuries. Various types of oared galleys were in use for thousands of years, from ancient Minoan ships to the 1500's, yet nowhere is there a space opera using "Pentakonters" to deliver raiding parties ashore to steal cattle or besiege Troy. Galleons were major fighting ships for hundreds of years, but have no more place, while the lowly fregata, a fast ship to chase down corsairs (or act as one) has evolved to become the modern Frigate.

I'm not sure if there is a comprehensive website, but a classic reference which might be in a well stocked library is "The ship : an illustrated history" written and illustrated by Bjorn Landstrom

  • $\begingroup$ And, FWIW, "corvette" and "frigate" got thoroughly redefined by the British in WWII. $\endgroup$ Feb 4 '19 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ It hadn't occurred to me that it makes complete sense that anyone that has the sort of information I'm looking for in detail would have compiled in a book I have to buy instead of it just being free on the internet. Shame. $\endgroup$ Feb 9 '19 at 16:32

I think I may have a good one...


But if this one doesn't cut it I have another one



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