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 https://jddavies.com/2017/09/11/a-very-palpable-hit-the-state-of-maritime-historical-research-conference-2017/ 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 https://snr.org.uk/.
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.