Reflections on engagement with my exhibition ‘Liminal Matter’, held in association with The Greenwich Maritime Centre, by Lizzie Cannon

The Heritage Gallery, at the heart of the Old Royal Naval College, with its’ views of the River Thames was the ideal location for an exhibition which took the ‘Liminal Matter’ of the constantly shifting shoreline as its subject matter. Attracting audiences who had come to visit the grade I listed building on a World Heritage Site or to events such as the ‘The State of Maritime History Research’ Conference, enabled some interesting dialogue around historical artefacts, artistic interpretation and maritime issues.

IMG_4021 LR
View of In Transition (2015-17) and Corrosion (study with beads) 3 (2015) through door of the Heritage Gallery


One visitor identified the object used in ‘Corrosion: Study with beads 1’ (2013) as a hub cap, which he thought to be from a Morris manufactured between 1938 and 1950. Another, suggested ‘In Transition’ (2015-17) is derived from the inner lining of a funnel from a Steam Ship, built sometime between the 1890s and 1930s. As an artist, I am drawn to these objects in their delicate transitory state, somewhere between the functional, historical and organic, artefact and debris. I tap into a process of continued material change through subtle interventions, my needle and thread echoing the repetitive and circular action of the waves as I mimic the slow accumulation of rust and organic matter by sewing together tiny beads.

The exhibition was accompanied by a series of free events. The Researcher’s Discussion Group invited academics at the University of Greenwich to join in an inter-disciplinary conversation in response to the works exhibited. This gave a thought provoking insight into different ways the work could be interpreted and its contribution to understanding the liminality of the coast-line. For Dr. Vanessa Taylor (Lecturer in Environmental History / Research Fellow) ‘In Transition’ (2015-17) prompted thought around the passage of time, death and decay and the drive to recover what is dead. Coming from an Ecology background, Dr. Adriana Ford (Research Fellow in Environmental Social Sciences) was drawn to the beaded interventions, interpreting them as the colonisation of an inanimate object by something living. Dr. Tim Acott (Principal Lecturer, Environmental Geography) saw the work as a challenge to the notion of Ecosystem, by beginning to break down the ‘human-nature’ dualism.

Liminal Matters, an exhibitio by Lizzie Cannon
Exhibition installation shot: Corrosion (study with beads) 1-3 (2013-2015) and In Transition (2015-17). (Photography: Arnold Borgerth)


[Speaking about ‘In Transition’ (2015-17)]

TA: So presumably in its original function at that point it was allowing or enabling that ship to operate… and then it’s ended up on the beach and has become a vehicle for wildlife, for barnacles and things to grow in. It has started to become colonised, and so that distance to the human… is starting to get greater.

LC: But also, the history that comes before this starts to become apparent as well, before it was just matter that was in the ground that looks very much like what is now accumulating around the bottom I can imagine.

TA: Absolutely, yes, and take it one stage further than that, and how was that iron produced and how was it smelted, then this object is created and had a certain function, that was dissipated. And of course, the processes around that dissipation would be really interesting. What happened? How was the ship wrecked? What were the stories around that etc. and then it ends up on the beach. Is it part of the ecosystem, from when the barnacles started growing etc.? Who knows? Then you found it, you came along, and you took it out of that system and you started to put beads on it, you started photographing it and getting it into galleries, so it’s now an object of circulation, an object of aesthetic enjoyment etc. And it’s been sold to someone who lives in Suffolk… so if you were to write a life history of that object, its having an effect.

AF: Absolutely … and I was just thinking that object you found on the beach, how many people came across it before you, and did other people walk past it and what was their reaction to it? Did they think that is just horrible piece of pollution or did a child play in it?…

The varying nature and role of academic research also became apparent. Whereas Historians may often primarily focus on documents held in archives to evidence answers to predefined questions, the role of the artist, is perhaps, to stimulate questions and destabilise established ideas? In relation to the exhibited works, I feel the materiality of the objects leads this dialogue. Or in the words of Dr. Vanessa Taylor ‘You’ve got this object and it just kind of splurges all these things up and you can actually do with them what you want’. With reference to Jane Bennett’s book ‘Vibrant Matter’ and Bruno Latour’s ‘Actor Network Theory’, Dr. Tim Acott drew attention to the benefits of looking at objects as a process rather than a static given entity, as ‘actually having an effect … acting out as an entity that is causing something to happen’. These ideas resonate with me, as my process based interactions with the objects are a way of investigating and embracing an ontological fluidity that allows for an understanding of materiality as a reciprocal and generative relationship between humans and environment.

Discussion ensued around the purpose and justification for academic research and art practice, and more specifically, around the impact that the exhibition may have going forward. As an artist, I do not set out with a politicised agenda but hope to invite dialogue. It would be interesting if the discussion initiated by a work such as ‘In Transition’ (2015-17) were to continue in another medium or on another platform, contributing to an ongoing discourse.

This event was held in association with Greenwich Maritime Centre, University of Greenwich, was kindly supported by Arts Council England National Lottery funding, and was part of Totally Thames 2017 that runs from 1-30 September

UoG_2012_4 14 GMC LONG


“Art, Resilience and Porosity in the Coastal Zone.” Our next seminar at the University of Greenwich.

Dear all,

Following the success of our first CMRG & GMC Joint Seminar Series talk this week we are proud to announce the second in the series:

“Art, Resilience and Porosity in the Coastal Zone.” by Simon Read

Tuesday 5th December, 6pm

The University of Greenwich, Old Royal Naval College, 30 Park Row, London SE10 9LS

Lecture Theatre QA080

It is an anomaly that whilst most coastal communities consider the continuing resilience of the coast and its defences a priority, there is a growing belief from the policy development sector that this should flow from a reinvigorated climate of social resilience. This begs the question of who is responsible to deliver resilience? From a community point of view the expectation persists that this is the duty of a benign authority, which recently has provoked a profound sense of betrayal when it is realized that this may not be so. This in turn evolves from a belief in the inherent value of coastal landscape, which is valued as much for its cultural significance as it is a source of livelihood. The bonds that tie people to place make them determined that the configuration of the landscape should remain as it always was or as it always was presumed to be. Although in reality it may be tenuous, it is nonetheless deeply rooted in the community psyche that a landscape that is inherently changeful is also predictable, consistent and cyclical in spite of copious evidence to the contrary.

For the full description please visit our website: 

And for FREE tickets please visit our Eventbrite page to sign up:


Das Meer: Maritime Welten in der Frühen Neuzeit / The Sea: Maritime Worlds in the Early Modern Period. Conference report by Dr Michael Talbot.

The history of the sea is going through an exciting period of rejuvenation and reinvention, evidenced by a number of recent innovative conferences, not least the 2017 ‘State of Maritime History Research’ held at the University of Greenwich. Across one body of water, our colleagues in Germany have also been thinking hard about things maritime, and a major gathering of German and international scholars was held in the historic Herzog August Bibliothek in the chocolate box town of Wolfenbüttel from 5 to 7 October 2017, generously supported by the German Research Foundation.

Organised by the Working Group on Early Modern History in the German Historians’ Association, this three-day maritime extravaganza was entitled ‘Das Meer: Maritime Welten in der Frühen Neuzeit / The Sea: Maritime Worlds in the Early Modern Period’. Twenty-three panels manned by a range of early career and established historians and curators, as well as maritime professionals, sought to explore some broad questions about the role of the sea in early modern history (c.1450-1800).



Schloss Wolfenbüttel, one of the conference venues


The conference dealt with some of the standard sources and ideas of maritime history, thinking about the sea as a contact zone between cultures, a commercial and migration superhighway, and, of course, a site of political contention. Yet the organisers also wanted to get the participants to think about, to use their words, ‘the perceptions, imaginations, and experiences of those living by, on, and off the sea’. This approach produced some of the most exciting papers, but also raised a number of issues.

As a conference with consecutive panels, I didn’t get to see everything that I wanted to, but what I did see provided much food for thought. The first panel on connected seas and oceans with examples from the North Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic set the tone for a conference that was genuinely comparative, and thoughtful in the comparisons it made. ‘Connectivity’ is a something of a buzzword, but here the links between the papers in terms of law and logistics were fascinating. My own panel, organised by the brilliant Dr Isabelle Schürch, thought about ports and their solid and liquid hinterlands as spaces of ‘transfer and transformation’, with examples from New Spain, Istanbul, and St Helena.

One of my favourite panels came on the morning of the second day, entitled ‘pirates matter / pirate matters’. Moving beyond the well-worn tropes of popular culture, this panel really showed what different frameworks could do to really help us understand experiences and perceptions of the sea and life at sea, from Richard Blakemore’s study of the role of violence to Claire Jowitt’s queering of piracy, to Daniel Lange’s excellent paper on English pirate maps in the later 17th century. Another superb contribution came with ‘a history of drowning and lifesaving in the 18th century’, where all the panellists had come to the topic of lifesaving through previous work on the history of suicide. A special mention must go to Charlotte Colding Smith of the German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven, whose fellow panellists for the panel ‘Natur an Bord: Schiffstransport und frühneuzeitliche Wissensgeschichte [Nature on board: Maritime transport and the history of early modern knowledge]’ had been stranded due to a major storm disrupting transport in northern Germany. She gave her paper on the display of whales in early modern collections nonetheless, and it was one of the highlights of the conference.

The keynote by Neil Safier of the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, Rhode Island – another major repository of early modern learning – presented a number of fascinating ideas and challenges. He spoke about the success of the ‘oceanic turn’ in early modern studies that has challenged the dominance of the land, but at the same time, he argued, it has become clearer that we cannot talk about oceans without talking about continents – and vice versa. This oceanic turn, that has moved us away from stories dominated by the state and by swashbucklers to more mundane but important stories of ordinary sailors, indigenous peoples, and marine life itself, also then links the sea more closely with the land.



Before the keynote in the August Herzog Bibliothek


This is important. But it also poses problems for those of us who think about and value the sea as a distinct set of spaces, who appreciate links to the land but also understand that solid ground continues to dominate historical writing. Many of the papers at the conference in Wolfenbüttel were only tenuously maritime. In several presentations, the words ‘sea’, ‘water’, or ‘sailor’ weren’t even mentioned. This is the challenge of dealing with the ‘perceptions’ and ‘imaginations’ element of maritime history, and when ‘experiences’ become perhaps a bit too abstract. This is not to say that such approaches do not provide valuable insights. Rather, it is to say that we must perhaps be more precise in what we think we mean about this ever-challenging term, ‘maritime history’.


Dr Michael Talbot

Lecturer in the History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Middle East

Department of History, Politics and Social Sciences

University of Greenwich

Staff Profile

Out now: British-Ottoman Relations, 1661-1807: Commerce and Diplomatic Practice in Eighteenth-Century Istanbul

National Maritime ‘The Big Skills Debate’

November 8 @ 5:30 pm8:00 pm

at the University of Greenwich, London.


The National Maritime ‘BIG SKILLS DEBATE‘ is delivered in partnership with Jobs in Maritime, the Greenwich Maritime Centre (GMC) and the Shipbuilders and Shiprepairers Association (SSA). The event further supports our work around, encouraging and developing closer collaboration between all industries within the UK maritime cluster to drive economic growth.

The debates Chairperson:

  • Andrew Bull, Headmaster, The London Nautical School.

The panel:

  • Tony Graham, Chairman, The UK Naval Engineering Science and Technology Forum (UKNEST)
  • Peter Aylott, Chairman, Education and Training, The Honourable Company of Master Mariners (HCMM)
  • Susan Potter, HC Development Manager, DP World London Gateway
  • Sally Atkinson, Project Manager, Parkol Marine Engineering Limited
  • James Burr, Head of Human Resources, MBNA Thames Clippers
  • Dr Christopher Ware, MA Programme lead International Maritime Policy., Greenwich Maritime Centre
  • Ben Willows, Chief Executive, UKSA

The expert panel represents UK maritime cluster interests in naval design and engineering, the merchant navy, port operations, fisheries, shipbuilding, inland waterways and education.

The debate will explore how corporates, entrepreneurs and governments currently collaborate to deliver maritime training that best supports business succession planning, it will challenge existing UK maritime training provision and funding streams and take the opportunity to consider how the national ‘skills gap’ discussion can be simplified to encourage wider participation and collaboration from across the UK maritime cluster. The format will be a 90 minute panel debate (BBC Question Time panel delivery). The event includes a drinks reception.

Event Registration: 17.30 hrs


£20 + VAT for National Maritime SSA members

£25 + VAT for Non-Members

For more details or to purchase your ticket please visit or email

‘State of Maritime History Research’ Conference Report

The GMC is pleased to announce that the ‘State of Maritime History Research’ conference, held in partnership with the Society for Nautical Research (SNR), was a resounding success.

On 9 September 2017, we welcomed over 70 delegates to the first maritime history conference hosted by the GMC, and the first national conference organised by the SNR. The SNR supports maritime history events in conjunction with other organisations, such as the New Researchers in Maritime History conference and the King’s Lecture series, co-sponsored with the British Commission for Maritime History. Although a half-day conference in Glasgow in 2010 to celebrate the SNR’s centenary developed into the Annual Scottish Maritime History Conference held with the University of Glasgow and Glasgow Museums, this was the first time they held a full one day event under their own flag. At the same time, the GMC wanted a conference for alumni of the former Greenwich Maritime Institute. Both organisations also sought to attract those who write maritime history but who don’t identify as maritime historians. This conference was the result.


With the theme of ‘The State of Maritime Research’, it was befitting that the first SNR Anderson Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to long-time member John Hattendorf, Professor Emeritus of Maritime History, U.S. Naval War College. Prof Hattendorf has for a long time been a keen observer and prolific writer on developments in naval and maritime history. In answer to the conference’s key question about the future of maritime history he answered in the affirmative. Maritime history is in a healthy state, with at least nine maritime history journals: ‘a field with so many active journals seems to be one that is vibrant’. He suggests there is ‘great future potential’, and to ‘Let’s all get to work and keep maritime history under-weigh with way on!’

The tone was set perfectly for the rest of the conference. Keynotes by our other master naval historians, Prof Eric Grove and Prof Richard Harding, also set the bar high by sharing their experiences with incorporating broad perspectives. Prof Grove regaled us with an ‘aha’ moment, which came from watching a programme on food history. This changed the way he interpreted the U-boat crisis of 1917. He advised that we can’t understand battles and war without seeing the bigger picture, such as the importance of logistics and food production.


Prof Richard Harding, our last keynote of the day, had a similar message. Maritime history is robust and diverse, and yet offers even more opportunities for research. The field is multi-functional, multi-disciplinary; it helps us to understand the global condition and organizational problems. This is especially true when maritime history connects with other approaches, such as the social sciences. He emphasised as well, that the field’s strength lies in its breadth of practitioners—both professional and amateur. Indeed, our amateur researchers are our bedrock.

The papers presented at the conference supported the points made in all three keynotes. They were wide-ranging, and all offered exciting new avenues for research. Indeed, one of the themes of the conference was the importance of reaching out, to bring together academics, independent scholars, heritage organisations, museums, and the interested public. We all need each other.


All-in-all, the feedback for the conference was very positive, and the excitement was palpable. One delegate remarked on Twitter that “I had a great day, thanks for the kick start to my MA studies. Am one of the enthusiastic amateurs mentioned in round table!” It wasn’t long before the organisers heard the comments of ‘Let’s do this again!’

I think we all took away an appreciation for the vibrancy and positive future of maritime history. We really do have an embarrassment of riches considering the topics and methods we can choose from, and potential impact of our research. The field is in good hands.

If you didn’t get to attend, conference organiser JD Davies has written an engaging blog at which describes individual papers.  Tweets from the conference can be viewed by searching on #MarConf17 on Twitter. The SNR is also planning on publishing many of the papers in Topmasts, which will be available open-source online. Check out their website at


One last comment—but a very important one: The organisers offer their gratitude to the University of Greenwich for hosting the conference, as well as to the Events team for all their help in set-up, registration, catering, and taking care of the delegates. We couldn’t have done it without you.


CALL FOR PAPERS – The State of Maritime History Research


University of Greenwich, 9 September 2017

Over the past few decades there has been significant debate as to the place and shape of maritime history. In January 2008, the Council of the American Historical Association approved unanimously to add ‘Maritime, including Naval’ to its taxonomy of academic specialties. But since then, it has been suggested that the field has been marginalised.  Or does the growth of new areas of interest – such as the study of port towns, the ‘Atlantic World,’ Coastal History, and the role of gender in maritime history – suggest a flourishing, if more diverse, environment? What is the state of health in other research-orientated maritime activities such as public history and heritage?

The Greenwich Maritime Centre and the Society for Nautical Research are excited to announce a major conference to be held at the University of Greenwich to consider these questions. The conference will bring together key contributors from within the broad field of maritime history, as well as those who write on maritime and coastal topics, but do not consider themselves maritime historians. Papers and key discussion points will be published in hard copy and/or online by the Society of Nautical Research.

Proposals are invited for papers on any of the following aspects, or on other related and relevant themes. The principal criterion for acceptance will be the extent to which a paper provides a broad overview of the current situation in a specific field, and of the prospects for the future, rather than narrow, descriptive accounts of a particular period of history or historic ship (to give two examples).

  • The study of maritime history in the university and school sectors
  • The state of maritime research in particular geographical regions and countries
  • The state of particular sub-disciplines within maritime history and research, e.g. naval history, nautical archaeology, port towns, coastal studies
  • The health of the maritime museums sector, and current and future challenges for it
  • The state of the historic ships and craft sector
  • ‘Sea blindness’: fact or fiction?

Proposals of 500 words, together with a short biography of no more than 150 words, should be submitted by 1 June 2017  to

NB: There will be a nominal fee of £25 for the conference. Please book  at, registration will open on 1 June 2017.

Rendez-Vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta

Last week saw the arrival of the Tall Ships festival in Greenwich. The University of Greenwich hosted a stand at the festival, held within our campus at the Old Royal Naval College, and here are a few photographs.

You can find out more information about the Tall Ships Festival here.