The National Maritime Museum is working with Dr Douglas Hamilton, Sheffield Hallam University and Dr John McAleer, University of Southampton, on a series of workshops on the theme of islands and empire, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
The meetings will bring together international scholars to explore the roles played by islands in shaping the British Empire.
Often imagined as special places, islands have long been seen as Edenic or utopian. Small islands situated in the middle of oceans and remote from continental land masses often possess an importance out of all relation to their size and resources.
Workshop 1: The Use of Islands in Establishing, Expanding and Maintaining Empires
While much of the British Empire was continental rather than insular, islands played a critical role in consolidating Britain’s global reach.
Early colonial visions of islands saw them as landscapes that could be transformed by the plantation of peoples, crops and ideas. They had powerful impacts on British approaches to empire. Islands were more than testing grounds for empire, however. They were highly lucrative possessions and immense wealth was created for individuals and governments.
Islands also acted as both staging posts and strategic bulwarks, safeguarding territories and sea routes and enabling the expansion of empires.
Workshop 2: Islands as Microcosms of Wider Imperial and Global Contests
Although they are often associated with a particular empire, islands were not straightforwardly British or French or Dutch. Located on key trade routes, they provided cosmopolitan safe harbours for peoples of many nations.
As a result, and particularly at times of war or revolution, these societies reflected wider global disputes. Equally important were the tensions between Europeans and non-Europeans on the islands. Slave revolt and indigenous power constantly challenged the presence of imperial rule.
Workshop 3: Island collections
European activity on these islands created a vast archive of records that illuminate European engagements with these places, the environments and peoples. In addition to documentary sources, an array of prints, drawings, fine art, cartography and a host of material culture represent these islands.
The NMM’s unparalleled collections on these themes will provide the focus of the third workshop.
Follow the project
Follow the project on the Royal Museums Greenwich website and on Twitter at @empire_islands
AHRC award ref: AH/N003225/1