CfP: Unsettling Orthodoxies in Merchant Seafaring History (Post 1750) 

Call for proposals



An invitation to graduate and post-doctoral students, and early career faculty to participate in an online real-time discussion series hosted by Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada. 


Our purpose: discussion of the sources, concepts, and methods that inform us about past maritime populations.  


While the growth of humanists’ and social scientists’ interest in the “maritime factor” encourages this initiative it is geared to a better historical understanding of the multiple, intersecting, and shifting forces and relations that have characterized the oceans and their landward connections during the long nineteenth century. Mindful to historiography as an act in the present on behalf of the future we ask what approaches, insights, even records, might we leave behind, and what (or whom) do we forget at our peril? We anticipate a developing, critical, conversation about ships, crews and ports at different points – local, national, and global – where the precepts of capitalist and imperial development ill-matched modes of existing by seaborne trade and transit. Participants should be ready to stay the course by making a regular commitment to the series.  


Our topics: while the organizers will invite participants’ suggestions for the second semester, we canvass two topics for the early sessions.  


During a lengthy engagement with sailortown historians have re-thought its period characterization as a site of economic dysfunctionality and political alterity. But if the co-constitution of embodiment and landscape in ports is to further reward theoretical and empirical work what sensibilities might prime our observations of the lives of labor, leisure, family, and sexuality unfolding in vessels, mercantile marine and consular offices, in docks, market squares, corner shops and homes, as well as in brothels, bars and back alleys?  


Materialism re-made is our cue to considering activities and objects that link seafaring and landward labour. By acknowledging unpaid or undervalued domestic production and the skills and objects accrued through leisure pastimes, we will challenge ontological separation of ideas and things.  Might the long-standing criticism of the historical and historiographical devaluation of women's work in maritime settings draw momentum from this critical approach to the gender binary that separates maritime spaces occupationally?  


Our format: six online sessions of up to 90 minutes during the fall 2023 and winter 2024 semesters. While still subject to confirmation, they will likely be timed for Central Standard Time (North America) 11.00- 12.30 (UTC-6). We apologize to would-be participants from time-zones not easily squared with this schedule. 


Making contact: at your earliest opportunity let us know of your interest. Please include relevant biographical details. Your message will reach the organizers at: 


We are

Meaghan Walker: Independent Researcher, St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada 

Kristof Loockx: Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Antwerp, Belgium. 

Valerie Burton: Emeritus Professor of Maritime History, Memorial University, Canada 


Our hosts: the Maritime History Archive of Memorial University The archive has often hosted online events of this kind. A recording of a previous event “Postcolonial Uses for the Primary Sources of British Imperial Merchant Seafarers in the 19th & 20th Centuries” is available