Boaty McWhoseface? Or, some thoughts on ships’ names

You must have heard of it – the online poll to name a polar scientific research vessel, won by a humorous (but, it must be said, not particularly inspired) choice that is considerably less august and impressive than the Natural Environment Research Council were probably hoping for. As it turns out that the voice of the people may be ignored and some other name chosen, it is being taken as a parable about democracy in our time. On a slightly different note, over at the History@Manchester blog Linda Briggs has written about the rituals with which early modern French monarchs and merchants named their ships. This seemed to me a good excuse to borrow the idea and take a look at early modern ship-naming in Britain and Europe more generally.
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The water is too deep

It’s been a long time since I’ve written on this blog, so I’ll try to get it going again by posting about some of the research I am currently doing in the Netherlands (I’ll be digging around the Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Dutch national archives for the next few months). I’m here looking for evidence about sailors from Britain and Ireland during the seventeenth century, and what they got up to in another country. Did they take work on Dutch ships, or with institutions like the navy or the various trading companies? What kinds of relationships did they form with people and communities in the Netherlands? I hope that by building up a picture of their activities from the perspectives offered in Dutch records I can complement my research in British collections, and start to think about questions like how much national identities mattered to sailors.

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Toe-dipping in the mainstream

These days, academics are encouraged to appeal to big audiences. We are told that we must have ‘impact’ (teaching 2.2 million university students doesn’t seem to count, oddly enough – but let’s leave that for another time). Just over a fortnight ago I had my first proper taste of this when I got involved in a collective letter published in History Today, whose readership and twitter followers represent a much bigger audience than I am likely to reach through my academic writing and teaching. Continue reading

Fame, fortune, and footnotes

The next issue of The American Historical Review, out in April, will contain an exchange concerning the History Manifesto; it is already available on the American Historical Association website. To my surprise (and I am grateful to Brodie Waddell for noticing this), one of the footnotes cites my review of the Manifesto on this blog from October last year. That review is my most popular post to date, no doubt helped by links to it appearing on the Manifesto website, and David Armitage’s webpage about the book. Even so, when I started this blog I never thought it would be mentioned in a serious historical journal dating back to 1895, which has the highest ‘impact factor’ of any journal in the field, according to Thomson Reuters’ Journal Citation Reports. Nor did I foresee that it would lead to my name being immortalised in print (which is still more permanent than online content) next to the word ‘historywomble’. Though that should perhaps have been more predictable.

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Counting Historians

Recently, for the first time and with the help of patient friends (especially Simon Abernethy and Edmond Smith), I’ve been working on some research that involves quite a bit of statistical analysis. As a result I have started thinking more about this kind of approach to other problems and so, when I came across the Data for Research page of the journal website JSTOR, it seemed well worth investigating.

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…is an idea suggested on Twitter, over the weekend, by Cambridge early modernist Liesbeth Corens

– inspired, as the tweet suggests, by ‘Dance Your PhD’, a competition sponsored by the journal Science with a proper prize and everything (for last year’s winner, see here). The rather great website lol my thesis also springs to mind. The first such verse offering, by also-Cambridge-early-modernist Harriet Lyon, is shown in Liesbeth’s preceding tweet.

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Thomas, Thomas, Thomas, Caleb (part IV)

This is the final post in a series on a particular seafaring family from the seventeenth century with a habit of being called Thomas. Pevious posts introduced ‘Thomas snr’, ‘kinsman Thomas’, and ‘Thomas jnr’ and his brother Caleb, following their fortunes as much as possible through the available sources, especially their wills. In this post, I want to step back and think about what they tell us in a boader sense (so if you haven’t read the other three posts yet, a) why not? and b) it might be a good idea if you want to make sense of this one).
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