Sunday 25 May 2008

Learn about women and the sea, at a maritime conference in June

Come to the 5th International Congress of Maritime History, at Greenwich, UK, which runs from 23 June - 27 June. For details see:

There are three papers on gender:

  • On June 24, come to 'A Place to Freely Change Identity: the Sea Voyage as Space/Time of Change for 20th Century Seafarers and Passengers' by Dr Jo Stanley. This explores the idea that a sea voyage can enable voyagers to step out of their usual identity and try on fresh identities (gender, class, sexual orientation, - even race. (See pictures above for fancy-dressed stewardesses changing time and class, and stewards playing with gender identity). Essentially the point is that this particular type of physical mobility could facilitate a psychic motility and mobility for the people in between lands. That is, the sea is a metaphor for freedom. What is interesting is how people differently availed themselves of the opportunity to explore new ways of being – or not.
  • On June 24, come to 'Gender, Class and Shipboard Authority on the 18th Century Atlantic Crossing from the Passengers' Perspective, by Lisa Norling, June 24
    'Little historical work has critically examined the physical embodiment of movement at sea and its meaning for different historical actors on shipboard. Based on ... travel accounts of fifteen English, Irish, and Anglo-American travelers – eight women and seven men – who crossed the North Atlantic ... between 1742 and 1803, I examine the strenuous efforts by these passengers to reconstitute their identities and reassert familiar status hierarchies in the radically decontextualized shipboard environment. Gender and class, like other elements of identity, are constituted and enacted through performance, contextual reference, and location, including movement through space. The passengers found themselves figuratively as well as literally at sea: disoriented and challenged by the unfamiliar social organization and disciplinary regime of seafaring; the restrictiveness, instability, and discomforts of their accommodations; and the alien seascape lacking in reassuring geographic reference points. ... The women ....[experienced] increased restrictions and deprivations. Men repeatedly expressed surprise at the presence of women on shipboard, continually reinforcing the definition of women’s sea travel as dislocation. Drawing on geographer Tim Cresswell’s insight that “bodily movement…is one of the key ways in which power is constituted,” I argue that the ways in which identity and authority were defined and deployed by 18th-century men at sea fundamentally relied on the reification and reinforcement of emergent concepts of sexual difference emphasizing women’s presumed delicacy, sensibility, and dependency in contrast to men’s assumed strength, rationality, and individualism.'
  • On June 25, come to ' Fighting Winds and Waves: Women Seafarers in China Since 1949.' by Dr Minghua Zhao. She will examine women’s participation and role in the Chinese merchant fleets since new China was established.... references will also be made to women at sea in other cultures during the same period.

Latest review: Grace Darling:

Want to read about the latest book on the world's most famous heroine of the sea?

See my review of Grace Darling: Victorian Heroine, by Hugh Cunningham. It's just come out in Women’s History Magazine, no 58, Spring/Summer 2008, p.38. If you want to get the magazine, the url is
Here's a taste of the review:

" The Grace figure was used as exemplar of admirable behaviour, particularly in moral tracts for children, as Cunningham shows. As someone working on gender and the sea, I see this ‘story’ as also subtly highlighting issues about female mobility and women’s use of the sea. The real Grace shows that women were:
  • part of family labour in lighthouse keeping
  • perfectly capable of rowing competently, and therefore had both motility (a sense that one could be mobile) as well as mobility, rather than staying at the hearth.

" The iconic ‘Grace’ showed that society could accept women’s mobility if it was rare rather, and if it women were mobile for supportive reasons than just seizing the freedom of the waves for themselves. Read against the grain, Grace’s brief voyage was very public proof that women and water were not antithetical. Indeed, she may have inspired thousands of women mariners, as did Arthur Ransome’s fictional Nancy Blackett. "