I will be contributing a paper on the perspectives on ocean ecologies afforded by 19th century literature, examining the literary and cultural “becomings” of the sea in the nineteenth century by way of setting up discussion of the contemporary situation. Building on my work in Sea Narratives: cultural responses to the sea, 1600-present, in which I argued for a co-productive relationship between the sea and cultural production, I’m interested in not just what was known, but how that knowledge was brought into being through the cultural sphere; that is to say, less with the details of scientific exploration and study of the oceans in the 19th century, and more with the ways in which that knowledge was mediated, constructed, and relayed through the cultural sphere to the common reader. Moreover, I’m interested in the broader conceptual frameworks within which understandings of the sea as a valuable resource, or “treasure”, are situated; a variety of discursive approaches and understandings of the sea, which inform upon, contextualise, and contour this central theme.
My enquiry thus centres upon understanding what was known about the sea, how it was being made known, and crucially, tracing the co-productive relationship between the sea and cultural production/narrative form, as it impacts upon and resonates through the formation of knowledge about the sea. This paper aims not only to historicise human-marine interactions, but also to think about broader discursive frameworks within which marine resources are situated historically and to the present.
I blogged earlier this year about my emerging research project on sunburn and tanning in nineteenth-century medicine and culture, and this is now the focus of my research activity for the next two years thanks to the award of a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant. I am delighted to have been awarded this funding which will significantly advance the archival work underpinning the project, and contribute to future publications including a planned monograph on the topic.
The archive work focuses on maritime, tropical and military medicine, travel writing, and public health artifacts, bringing these into dialogue with my existing work on literary and cultural representations. I’m starting – tomorrow – with the National Maritime Museum’s archives, and then moving onto a number of others including the National Archives at Kew, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Leeds University Special Collections and Leamington Pump Rooms where I did some preparatory work earlier this year. I’m also going to be developing the conceptual frameworks around this – thinking about developing my previous work on embodied mobilities, networks, and ideas of nation and empire – and I’ll be writing more about this as I go.
My review of Port Towns and Urban Cultures: International histories of the waterfront, c. 1700–2000, ed. Brad Beaven, Karl Bell and Robert James (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) has been published in The Mariner’s Mirror (103.3); if you don’t have access to the journal, 50 free eprints are available here. I very much enjoyed this collection of essays on the history of ports and their cultural interactions, especially the way in which the book moved across a diverse variety of port cultures, while developing a core conceptual idea of “the port” throughout. There were also interesting intersections (including a shared contributor, Isaac Land) with issues raised in Sea Narratives.
More coastal connections await my reading, as Coastal Works: Cultures of the Atlantic Edge, ed. Nicholas Allen, Nick Groom and Jos Smith (OUP, 2017) has just landed in my in-tray and I’ll have a review of this out later in the year.
In this series of posts I am writing about my initial work on the transport history of the Great Exhibition that I presented last year at a workshop of the York Transport Historians. In the first post I wrote about how this project came about, and part II discussed the planning stages of the Exhibition. In this third post, I look at how goods moved across the world into the Crystal Palace.
III. Transporting Goods to the Exhibition
“It seemed as if magic only could have gathered this mass of wealth from all the ends of the Earth – as if none but supernatural hands could have arranged it thus… ruled and subdued by some invisible influence”
Charlotte Brontë, in a letter of 7th June 1851 to her father, Patrick Brontë
Such were Charlotte Brontë’s words upon entering the Crystal Palace in June 1851, the first of 2 visits that she made during her stay in London that year. Her reflections here capture the extraordinary co-ordination of forces that had come together to produce what another contemporary commentator described as a “monument to consumption” (Nikolas Pevsner, 1851).
While evocative, Brontë’s invocation of “the invisible influence” of supernatural hands belies the very visible presence of activity in the lead-up to the Exhibition; whether in the streets of London or in the pages of the press, objects on the move were recorded with intense fascination in the months and weeks leading up to the Exhibition.*
This started with the international packages, sometimes traced right from the point of origin; in one case, the route of a “monster lump of zinc ore” sent from the USA is followed from the mines, over the mountains to Dover, New Jersey, and then on to the coast to be shipped across the Atlantic (see The Times, 16th January 1851, p. 6).
Much of the sea-transportation was undertaken by the steamer ships that had largely outmoded sailing vessels by this point in the century, and Britain’s global network of steamships came into action: the Peninsular & Oriental company shipped items from Middle East and Mediterranean, the East India Company brought goods from India, and regular services between Britain and many ports across Europe served the continental contributors. Some ships were of especial interest, such as the Feiza Baari, the first Turkish steam-ship to ever visit England. The US frigate St Lawrence was also the subject of much anticipation, and for several months there are reports detailing the choice of ship, its fitting up, and then the awaiting of its eventual arrival on British shores, greeted with much excitement:
While the St Lawrence was of particular interest for the eagerly-awaited American contribution to the Exhibition, the attention given here to the packages it contains is not unusual. In the months leading up to the opening, the pages of The Times are filled with numerous such reports recording each arrival at the British docks with meticulous detailing of the number, and often the contents, of packages brought by each ship. As the weeks progress, this turns into something of a growing fixation at the numbers of goods received and the number still to arrive, as in this table from 22nd April 1851 recording the “return of foreign and colonial goods received to April 19 (inclusive):
Such figures are accompanied by frequent expressions of anxiety at the unknown quantities of goods still to be received, and concerns about scant intelligence from some countries: in February The Times writes, “the Executive Committee remain in profound ignorance as to what they may expect from most of the foreign countries” (The Times, 13th February 1851, p. 5) and this anxiety increases as 1st May approaches. Such concerns are a reminder that while it is easy to emphasise the global connectedness that the Exhibition depended upon, it also brought to the fore the realities of disconnection and the persistence of gaps in the networked world.
International goods arrived into either the London Docks, or to other ports such as Southampton (as in the case of the St Lawrence, above), which were connected to London by rail; many of Britain’s contributions also arrived on the railways (hence the importance of the Exhibition’s proximity to mainline stations, as outlined in this previous post). Upon arrival into the city, packages then made their way to the Crystal Palace by road.
Road-congestion around Hyde Park had been the subject of much discussion in the planning stages, but as the Exhibition approached this turned from concern to a source of wonder. The sight of waggons laden with goods arriving and departing at every hour becomes a spectacle in and of itself, one that The Times comments on frequently, and at length:
“waggons laden with every species of commodity have deposited their burdens in the interior… the string of conveyances in waiting often extended down the Kensington-road as far as the end of Sloane-street. Such a spectaclewas probably never witnessed in any thoroughfare of the metropolis before, and passers-by stopped to gaze at that long procession … more wonderful in its character than even the rows of splendid equipages assembled in the adjoining park during the height of the season. On Monday 600 waggon loads were received; yet the whole of this vast consignment was deposited with the utmost regularity, and without any inconvenience to the ordinary traffic of the thoroughfare.”
(The Times, 3rd April 1851, p. 5)
This wonder is not only at the number of things, but also at the movement of things: the “utmost regularity” by which so many packages are moved with order and precision. This sense of the ceaseless, repeated mass movement of items through the streets is evocative of technologized motion; while the waggons are an old form of pre-industrial transport, the consciousness of the railway age here turns them into the mechanisms of a machine-like motion filling London’s streets.
By May 1st 1851, most of the items for display had arrived in the Exhibition – with a few notable omissions, such as “the contributions of native produce from Western Australia, including the newly discovered woods from Shark’s-bay […] which were delayed by an accident to the vessel they were shipped in” (The Times, 8th May 08, 1851; pg. 6). But while a few late announcements of displays follow, attention now mostly turned to passenger transport which will be the subject of my next post.
*my focus here, as in previous posts, is on The Times; I’m currently working through local and regional newspapers to compare with and complement the London focus.
I am delighted to say that Sea Narratives: Cultural Responses to the Sea, 1600–Present has now been published with Palgrave Macmillan and can be purchased from the Palgrave website for £66.99 or as an ebook for £49.99; chapters can also be purchased individually. My thanks go to the contributors for their hard work on the fascinating chapters; it really was a pleasure to work on this book from start to finish.
I have written more here about the premise and contents of the book.
Call for Papers: Edited Collection on ‘Sea Narratives’
Set in the wider context of a turn towards space and mobility, studies of the sea have come to take increasing prominence in the humanities and social sciences. This volume seeks to establish an interdisciplinary exchange on the theme of ‘sea narratives’, looking at how the sea has figured as an important site in different cultural and geographical contexts from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.
The collection will explore how humans have interacted with the sea through trade, labour, migration, leisure and exploration; how the sea has figured in national contexts as a site of geopolitical control; and how it has featured in the cultural imagination as a space of danger and the unknown, but also as a source of inspiration. Historically the sea has been a space of possibility, representing the potential of travel, exploration and trade; it has also been a site of conflict and contest, where warfare and geopolitical disputes play out. From poets such as Derek Walcott, who links the sea powerfully with colonial history, to artists such as Paul Morstad who uses old maps as canvases for fantastic creatures, the sea has inspired a range of creative responses that generate new questions about its power and possibilities.
This collection seeks to investigate these varied, contested and provocative ways in which the sea has been chronicled. Contributions are invited from disciplines including (but not limited to) geography, history, literary studies, media studies, and art history, that focus on the theme of “sea narratives” from the 1600s to the present day. The collection will span geographical locations, taking as its premise the idea that sea narratives benefit from trans-national study. The concept of ‘narratives’ is interpreted broadly, to encompass fiction, travel writing, poetry, film, documentaries, oral stories, and other historical sources.
Final essays will be 6000-8000 words in length, and first drafts will be due in November 2014. Abstracts of 300 words should be submitted by Sunday 4th May 2014. Enquiries and expressions of interest are welcome before this deadline: please contact me at email@example.com
Back in January I posted about the Sea Narratives symposium held at Warwick as part of the Travel and Mobility Studies Network, and since then I seem to have been coming across sea research in all sorts of places – one being that we have Christine Riding from the National Maritime Museum talking about Turner and the Sea at BookFest in May. I’ve also started putting together an edited collection based on the sea narratives symposium, and have begun developing some of my own work along this theme. Coastal Cultures of the Long Nineteenth Century was a welcome opportunity to hone in on the resonances of the sea in this particular period, and especially to think about the cultures and communities that forge at the meeting of land and sea.