Britain's history has been fundamentally shaped by its relationship with the sea - you won't find too many people here at the National Maritime Museum disagreeing with that statement! Sometimes, when we are particularly enthusiastic, we might even say that 'boats built Britain' - the title of a recent exhibition here in Greenwich. Of course, this naturally begs the question: what did these boats help to build? Or, to put it another way, what type of British state emerged as a result of the maritime activity facilitated by the boats, ships and other vessels of the great Age of Sail?
These are some of the questions that I am currently grappling with as I prepare to give a lecture at Gresham College, in the heart of the City of London, on the subject of 'Britain's global trade in the great days of sail'. The possibilities and profits offered by maritime trade were crucial in defining the country's development as a global power in the Age of Sail. In this lecture, I will be exploring how British overseas trade went hand in hand with Britain's global empire in those eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries days of the sailing ship.
Preparing a lecture like this is quite a task. In the space of about fifty minutes, it will cover events in several oceans; a couple of centuries of history; thousands of vessels; tens of thousands of voyages; and millions of people. But it is a fascinating subject and one which I hope can add to the exciting programme of events being organised by Gresham College. Founded in 1597, Gresham College is London's oldest Higher Education Institution and has provided free public talks for over 400 years.
You can find out more about the range of events there on its website.
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Halfpenny token obverse and reverse (MEC2033)