RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

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12 On being at sea: historically experiencing movement across the waves
Affiliation Historical Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Jake Hodder (University of Nottingham, UK)
Stephen Legg (University of Nottingham, UK)
Chair(s) Jake Hodder (University of Nottingham, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 29 August 2018, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room Tower Building - Lecture Theatre 0.03
Session abstract A networked conception of space now informs the ways in which geographers consider a host of trans-local historical phenomena, from empires to trading companies, missions to exploration, academic collaborations to anti-colonial solidarities. This has done much to unsettle binaries between east and west or core and periphery, as well as to show how seemingly distinct political units are messily and reciprocally constitutive. Whilst a relational, networked approach has become commonplace, empirical work has tended to focus on the nodes of networks rather than the web of material practices and experiences which connect them. Whilst these lines of connection have traversed many elements (camel caravans across the desert, subterranean tunnels beneath cities, corridors of flight, or routes across the ice) the largest volume of historical networking has been atop seas and oceans. While abundant data exists on the volumetric extent of this movement (of its cargo, in both human and material terms) less is written about the experience of being at sea or the distinct historical and political implications of sea travel, especially in a period in which trans-oceanic journeys of weeks or months were the dominant means of travel. What did people do on the waves? What friendships or solidarities were forged there? How were class, race, sex and gender hierarchies reproduced or overturned aboard ship (or beneath deck)? We would like to explore these historical experiences but also use them to ask whether we can, now, reproduce the historical experience of being seaborne. Were such journeys ephemeral, and should they remain so? Were such journeys liminal, allowing transgressive practices which we should leave at sea? What sort of method, therefore, should we adopt after casting off, and why?
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2018@rgs.org
The mountains from the sea: perception, representation and exploration of the Ligurian coast by British visitors c. 1770-1915
Pietro Piana (University of Nottingham, UK)
Charles Watkins (University of Nottingham, UK)
Ross Balzaretti (University of Nottingham, UK)
When the travel writer John Chetwode Eustace (1762-1815) visited Liguria in 1802 he was relieved to be able to join Captain Gore on his frigate for a safe journey along the Eastern Riviera, between Genoa and Leghorn. Indeed, most travellers of his time preferred to travel by sea to avoid the rudimentary and dangerous roads. While they were on board, artists like Charles Gore (1729 – 1807), John Robert Cozens (1752 – 1797) and J. M. W. Turner (1775 – 1851) sketched views of villages and landscapes of the Riviera. Later in the century the modernised roads and railways allowed travellers to explore coastal villages which were once only a distant vision from the deck. The complicated coastal morphology meant that some places, such as Portofino, remained isolated and these became attractive places for wealthy British aristocrats and businessmen, often based in Genoa and associated with the maritime finance and trade, to settle and live. Other places, such as Alassio in Western Liguria were favoured, especially after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, by wealthy military and mercantile families who had retired from their posts and employment in India and China. This paper uses topographical views, historical photographs and travel accounts to examine the way that maritime views played a crucial role in the perception of Liguria by British travellers and settlers between c. 1770-1915.
Words that flicker and flutter and beat: The Poetry of Deep Sea Cables
Jimmy Packham (University of Birmingham, UK)
Laurence Publicover (University of Bristol, UK)
In her essay on the historiography on deep sea cables, Simone Müller assesses responses to the development of this technology by scholars concerned with empire, commercial sea-travel, diplomacy, news agencies, and human perceptions of space and time. What none of this research deals with—and what her suggestions for future research directions also overlook—is the laying of undersea cables as a specifically benthic activity: that is, as an activity taking place in the deep ocean. Building on the work of Helen Rozwadowki, this paper aims, first, to think about the laying of underwater cables as one phase in an extensive history of human involvement in the deep sea; and second, to examine contemporary poetic responses to this particular venture into the deep—responses that were alive to the uncanny fact that messages were being transported through a domain usually considered beyond human ken. Our paper, then, is concerned with the deep sea as a space that was, like the sea’s surface, inscribed by networks of human communication. We are interested particularly in how authors of the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries responded to a submarine communications network that radically transformed the process of international communication, doing so in such a way that relied on disembodied communications—communications that were ‘all at sea’, as it were—and prompted a reconsideration of humanity’s relationship with, and understanding of, the deep.It was certainly felt that this network required a poetic response. An editorial note in the literary magazine The Outlook (September 15, 1900) insists on the ‘romance and meaning which attach to submarine telegraphy’, and implicitly doubts whether Rudyard Kipling’s three-stanza poem ‘The Deep-Sea Cables’ had ‘come anywhere near a final expression’ of the possibilities for such an enticing subject. Our paper explores Kipling’s and others’ poetic evocations of this technology, as well as the shipboard newspaper written aboard the Great Eastern during the laying of the cables, drawing out not only the implications contemporaries felt this new technology had but also how it inflected cultural perceptions of the deep sea itself.
Intimacy and the ocean: making waves on the pirate radio vessel, 1964-1991
Kimberley Peters (University of Liverpool, UK)
In 1964, rebel radio stations took to the seas in converted ships to offer listening choice to a young, resistant audience, against a backdrop of restrictive British broadcasting policies. Much literature on this phenomenon has focused on the experiences of listeners on land, receiving the networked spray of signals from offshore. Other work has considered the legal spacings of the sea and air that made such an enterprise possible. This paper, however, goes inside so-called ‘pirate’ radio ships, which were anchored in the English Channel in the years between 1964 and 1991. Taking the view from the sea, not the land, this paper charts how the architecture of the ships, and their location at sea, was productive in the social conditions experienced by the crews of DJs on board, and how this simultaneously open yet intimate workplace was co-constituted in the soundscapes generated by sea-based disc jockeys. Drawing upon literatures concerned with ‘intimate geopolitics’, this paper pushes these in new directions through an investigation of ship-based rebel radio – the most intimate of mass communications mediums, in the most open and volatile of mediums: the sea.
From Riverine to Maritime: Ships spaces as conduits of anticolonial radicalism in India’s Swadeshi movement
Andrew Davies (University of Liverpool, UK)
In this paper, I seek to de-territorialise how ships formed important spaces for the transmission of revolutionary anticolonial ideas within and beyond the landed spaces of a nationalist struggle. Taking two interconnected examples, the paper explores the fluid assemblage of water (both river and sea/ocean), ship, body, and ideology by which revolutionary ideas travelled. Firstly, the paper discusses the riverine spaces of Chandernagore in Bengal, a strategic hideaway in French territory connected to British Calcutta by the River Hughli. Travelling on the river between the two cities traversed multiple imperial spaces and allowed the continued traffic of ‘seditious’ individuals and ideas. Most famously, riverine Chandernagore and its connections downstream to the maritime Bay of Bengal allowed Sri Aurobindo to evade arrest in 1910 and eventually to seek refuge in another French enclave, Pondicherry. The second example acts as a precursor to Aurobindo’s arrival in South India, where, from 1906, VOC Pillai’s Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company attempted to challenge the British monopoly on trade between India and Ceylon. Sparking Madras Presidency’s most distinct wave of swadeshi agitation, the SSNCo inspired revolutionaries like Aurobindo in Bengal to dream of a pan-Asian decolonial future that would be inherently maritime.
Delegates at Sea: a Mobile Conference between India and England?
Stephen Legg (University of Nottingham, UK)
Between 1930 and 1932 the Round Table Conference assembled in London three times, to debate India’s future within the British Empire. The conference did not cease its work between the London meetings. Rather, it became mobile, carrying on its work through touring committees in India and sitting committees in New Delhi. When delegates were called to London the work of the conference continued in motion. The boat journey from Bombay to Marseilles constituted vital preparation and reflection time regarding the London work of the conference. But they also provided a social space for delegates to get to know each other, and to hone their friendships and animosities. For many delegates international travel was a new, bewildering, and beguiling experience. For others it was a standard and tiresome round trip. This paper will reflect upon the significance of these journeys for the conference, and use accounts of the boat trips to reflect on how we might think of political events as, and through, their journeys.