A series of free seminars convened by the Research and Information Department at Royal Museums Greenwich.
Monday 1 June
Melting, receding, shifting
Dr Melanie Vandenbrouck, Curator: Art (post-1800)
Curator of Art (post-1800) Melanie Vandenbrouck considers artistic responses to the climate emergency. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have only 10 years left to avoid irreversible damage or catastrophic consequences. Can art, artists, and indeed museums, play a role in one of the greatest challenges faced by humankind?
Monday, 6 July
Anti-slavery and the Indian Ocean empires, 1790–1840
Dr James Wilson, University of Cambridge
Expanding the analytical framework for anti-slavery studies to the nineteenth-century Indian Ocean, this paper considers how islanders in Sri Lanka, Mauritius, and Madagascar made arguments against slavery as these sites moved between colonial rulers. Anti-slavery is frequently equated with the British movement led by William Wilberforce and the liberal credentials of Britain’s abolitionist empire in the Atlantic. Yet records of naval voyages and journals from the Indian Ocean tell a more complex story forged among empires: of arguments made across colonial contexts and anti-slavery struggles in which indigenous actors, who moved between these contexts, played formative – and now forgotten – parts.
Monday, 7 September
Radicalism, resistance and reaction: naval sailors and the revolutionary 1790s
Dr James Davey, University of Exeter and Caird Short-term Fellow
This paper explores the ways that naval sailors shaped, and were shaped by, the ‘Age of Revolution’. It focuses particularly on the radical 1790s, when, in the aftermath of the French Revolution, Britain was confronted by political radicalism and widespread social upheaval. Against this backdrop, sailors emerged as highly politically conscious individuals, frequently adopting the language of ‘revolution’ through oath-taking and references to ‘liberty’ and ‘arbitrary powers’.
This paper will go on to argue that sailors also had considerable political agency, through opposition to impressment, mutiny or ‘everyday resistance’. Finally, this paper will consider how the state responded to political activity among the lower-deck, and suggest that this mirrored the wider reaction of government authorities to the threat of radicalism. Taken together, it will demonstrate that placing the Royal Navy at the centre of these developments allows us to think anew about Britain’s ‘Age of Revolution’.
Monday, 5 October
Convict workers in cosmopolitan port cities
Dr Katherine Ann Roscoe, University of Liverpool
In the mid-nineteenth century steam-power transformed oceanic travel: a revolution built on the backs of convicts. Tens of thousands of British and Irish men were coerced into constructing maritime infrastructures that enabled global trade. Convicted felons worked on dockyards in Britain, Ireland and across its empire in Australia, Bermuda and Gibraltar between 1824-75.
This paper maps the global mobilities of people and ideologies and people that underpinned these sweeping technological changes. It asks whether convicts formed part of the cosmopolitan social worlds within these port cities? To do so, it traces the social interactions and relations convicts had with sailors, soldiers, dockyard workers, local people (including Spaniards and formerly-enslaved Bermudians).
Monday, 2 November
Giving a voice to the Merchant Navy: The British Seafarer 40 years on
Lucy Dale, assistant Curator
In 1980 The British Seafarer, a 26-part series documenting the history of the Merchant Navy, first aired on BBC Radio 4. A collaboration between the BBC and the National Maritime Museum, the series made extensive use of oral histories collected by museum staff, which demonstrated the experience of life at sea in the words of those who lived it. The extraordinary scope of these oral histories is hard to exaggerate. The series covered everything from the final days of sail to migration, war, smuggling, fishing, whaling and shipwreck. These recollections were recorded on almost 500 reel-to-reel tapes which, in the succeeding decades, have fallen silent.
We are seeking to change that. This paper will document not only the making of this extraordinary collection and The British Seafarer radio series but ongoing efforts by current curatorial staff to make these tapes available to the public once more.
Monday, 7 December
Who do you think you are? The curious death of Stoker Alfred Albert Phipps
Sue Prichard, Senior Curator: Arts
As curators, we are adept at dealing with memories and mementoes. We navigate paths through the myths and misconceptions that are hand down with material objects and interpret the past with objective eyes. However, what happens when our personal and professional lives collide? How do we deal with our own hidden histories and uncomfortable truths? The artist Cornelia Parker states that ‘In order for something to be “found”, it has to at some point in its history been “lost”’. Using photographs, scraps of a child’s naval uniform and a wooden spade this paper explores the curious death of the author’s great-grandfather, a stoker in the Royal Navy.
Seminars are free and there is no need to book.
Members of the Museum, adult learners, independent researchers, academic and university students and members of the public are welcome to attend.