We are delighted to announce the programme for the Southampton Marine and Maritime Postgraduate Group’s third annual colloquium, Sea Lines of Communication: Discovery. The event celebrates and encourages diverse and interdisciplinary postgraduate and early career research across all fields of marine and maritime studies. The event is free, and open to all. We hope you will join us – please register here:
Programme below the cut:
Dr Alexander Hay gave a very interesting talk on Geology, the Inner Hebrides, and Hugh Miller. Miller was a geologist and writer, who published works during the 19th century. For the purposes of this talk, Dr Hay used Miller’s story ‘The Cruise of The Betsey’, which was publish posthumously in 1858. ‘The Betsey’, an example of early popular science, centred on Miller’s time exploring the Inner Hebrides, examining its geology and examining its social and spiritual conditions.
The themes of this story and of Miller’s larger body of work are gothic in nature, in addition to focusing on death and its relation to the sea. It is believed that Miller had a fascination with the latter because of his own ties to growing up in a coastal community (Cromarty in the Scottish Highlands) and the inescapable familial deaths at sea often experienced by those growing up in such communities.
An interesting discussion on fossil hunting came out of this talk. The question was raised whether or not taking fossils from their environment (as Miller was doing throughout the voyage) could be (or should be) considered ‘looting’. A comparison was drawn to the looting that is constantly happening on submerged ships.
If you would like to read ‘The Cruise of The Betsey’, it can be found online here.
This week, Minke also presented a practice run of her First Year Presentation. We discussed her research surrounding hauntings at sea – the ocean can be seen as a liminal space, but at the same time it is central as a stage for these maritime ghost stories. Haunting takes on an aspect of the unnatural – opposed to the supernatural – as the ghost ships disregard the laws of nature, emphasising the perceived lack of control of nature in the age of sail. At the same time, these narratives evoke a sense of nostalgia for these days of sail and empire, and the sublime possibility of being haunted at sea.
For our first meeting back after the holidays, we met at Duke of Wellington pub, where we had dinner and sat down with Visiting Fellow, Philip Hoare. Philip is author of books such as The Sea Inside and Leviathan, as well as many articles for The Guardian. We discussed our own projects and general maritime conversation.
Philip mentioned different aspects of his own work. For example, the biography on Netley Hospital (Spike Island: Memory of a Military Hospital) that he wrote towards the beginning of his career was how he started inserting himself into the narrative, as a way of giving the book ‘bones’. Netley Hospital, we learned was a military hospital primarily used during World War I, and is the focus of controversy. Philip put himself into the narrative because there were only 11 surviving records on the building and so much of his biography came from first- and second-hand accounts.
Philip also mentioned that one of the bigger influences on the type of literature he writes has been The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald. Amazon describes the book as: “The Rings of Saturn begins as the record of a journey on foot through coastal East Anglia. From Lowestoft to Bungay, Sebald’s own story becomes the conductor of evocations of people and cultures past and present: of Chateaubriand, Thomas Browne, Swinburne and Conrad, of fishing fleets, skulls and silkworms. The result is an intricately patterned and haunting book on the transience of all things human.” Philip described Sebald as the ‘grandfather of
Naturally, since Leviathan we were discussing Leviathan, conversation turned to Moby Dick and whales in general. Philip mentioned he was a part of a project called ‘Moby Dick Big Read’ that encouraged people to read the book by having famous and not-so-famous people read a chapter and give their interpretations of
As an exciting bonus, the first copy of the paperback edition of The Sea Inside had arrived at Philip’s house that day. Not only did we get to flip through the copy, but he did a drawing and Peter was the lucky recipient of it!
Minke looked at the importance of sea monsters both in past culture and in our modern culture. Monsters occupy a liminal space that is alien and scary, but at
the same time occasionally benevolent. For example, in Olaus Magnus’ Carta Marina (1539), many different types of monsters are depicted: the Sea Orm is shown as a red serpent and represented approaching change (such as an assassination), while the Rockas is shown saving sailors who are drowning. One interesting point that was made is that the whirlpool that is depicted is a “real” danger still today, as that area of the sea is still today known for whirlpools. Minke showed the group different examples of sea monsters through time, such as a drawing of a fourteenth-century siren. She gave the group modern-day examples, such as the images conjured by Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem “The Kraken”, the movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and even Japanese Noodle commericials. She also gave examples of how descriptions of sea monsters can easily lead to the creation of terrifying images, especially during a time that science has not discovered the “real” animal (i.e., a description from 1673 of a squid). The question, “why do we want to believe in sea monsters?”, lead to an interesting discussion on the romance of the unknown.
Joel’s presentation, gave examples of how Romanticism dealt with evolving naval technology. He took us through “Rime of the Ancyent Marinere” (1798) by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, where we saw evidence of the Romantic Sublime and Coleridge’s ideas of humans’ place in nature. Coleridge depicts the transition from ships powered through the use of sails to the new ship technology that was being developed (such as steam powered ships). Coleridge depicted this transition as the demise of naval culture as he knew it. Created at a later date than “Rime of the Ancyent Marinere,” J.M.W. Turner’s paintings “The Fighting Temeraire” (1839) and “Snow Storm: Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth” (1842) are both in their own way an interesting contrast of beauty and utilitarianism. “The Fighting Temeraire” asks of its viewer some interesting questions about the feelings held by Turner towards this new technology, while “Snow Storm” debunks the idea that the new technology is stronger than nature. Finally, Joel brought us through a selection of shorter poems by Herman Melville: “The Portent” (1859), “The Temeraire” (1883), and “A Utilitarian View of the Monitor’s Fight” (1866). These poems show Melville’s mixed feelings towards the shift from sail to steam.