New Researchers Conference

Research degree students and independent scholars are warmly encouraged to share their work at our annual New Researchers Conference.

Student and Research Prizes

Are you a student working on maritime history? Apply for our Undergraduate and Postgraduate prizes.

‘Doing Maritime History Research Online’

1-day Workshop

9:15am to 5pm, Friday 4 February, 2022


Doing historical research is both easer and harder at the moment. New archival technology and digitisation programmes are providing better remote access to sources than ever before. The global pandemic, meanwhile, has forced many archives to restrict physical access as reading rooms become subject to social distancing measures and archivists have new obstacles to overcome. Maritime history is no exception: whether working on voluminous Admiralty files or private journals written aboard ship, there are many opportunities and challenges facing the researcher working in 2022.

What online resources are available to those interested in the sea, sailors and ships? What are the limitations of doing maritime history research online, and how can these be overcome? What does the future hold for academic historians, family history researchers, fiction writers and others working in this field? Will looking at a screen one day replace sitting in a reading room?

Join the British Commission for Maritime History for a 1-day online workshop exploring these complex issues, featuring talks by historians, curators and archivists. Our experts will cover everything from using digitized newspapers and crew lists to finding maritime sources in the most unlikely of places.


Final programme

Welcome & address from BCMH's Chair (09:15-09:25)

Dr Cathryn Pearce (Chair of BCMH)

Session 1 (09:25-11:00)

‘Troubled Waters? Reflections on Maritime History during a Global Pandemic’

Dr Richard Blakemore & Graham Moore (University of Reading)

This talk will discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected maritime historians at different career stages. It will explore the challenges of beginning and continuing research projects, ‘navigating’ scholarly communities, resource sharing and widening participation, and teaching and communicating history during this difficult time. All of these issues can and have changed the ways we interpret and understand the maritime past.

‘20,000 Search Results under the Sea: Researching the People and Places of Cutty Sark and the Willis Fleet Online’

Dr Hannah Stockton (Royal Museums Greenwich)

This talk will explore two ongoing museum projects covering the history of Cutty Sark and the John Willis & Co. shipping line, both making use of newspaper archives and family history records. It will discuss how the availability and searchability of these collections can add depth, nuance and a wealth of previously inaccessible information to the ship’s histories. Whether tracking a fleet of sailing ships across the oceans or uncovering biographical details about individual sailors, the ability to cut through vast archives online has brought new understanding of ships, crews and shipping companies of the late nineteenth century.

‘Researching Individual Ships Online’

Dr Roy Fenton (BCMH)

Recent years have seen an upsurge in information about individual ships available online, such as data on owners, builders, dimensions, constructional details, careers and fates. These details are of interest to many people, including those who served aboard the vessels, their descendants, historians, authors, photographers, model makers and enthusiasts. This talk will cover some of the more useful and reliable websites, both free and fee-charging, for ships built in the last 150 years.

Session 2 (11:15-13:00)

Rainbow Sea: Tips for E-Exploring Diverse and Intersectional Histories of Seafarers

Dr Jo Stanley (University of Hull)

Women, LGBT+ people and people of colour have often been hidden from maritime history, thereby leading to an imbalanced understanding of the past. This talk explains how, from the comfort of your desk or sofa, you can find out more about them. It will guide you through alternative digital sources, ranging from specialist archives such as those of the Bishopsgate Institute to chatrooms and social media threads.

‘Sailing Digital Seas in Paper Ships’

Jack Pink (University of Southampton)

Maritime archaeologists studying the nineteenth century have often focused on warships and oceangoing merchantmen, both of which have left many recorded sites behind for the researcher. Smaller coastal craft have often been overlooked since the archaeological record is either lacking or undocumented. Digital sources can help bridge this gap; there are fleets of paper ships awaiting our investigation, allowing us to expand on vessel narratives and produce new knowledge around seafaring and shipbuilding in this period. This talk will consider the documentary components of a ship as part of a vessel’s assemblage, using new theoretical models and methodological approaches to explore our Digital Seas.

‘Brunel’s Network: Collaborative Engineering in the 19th Century’

Dr James Boyd (SS Great Britain)

Brunel’s Network is a cutting-edge data visualisation that maps the working relationships and professional connections behind Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his major marine engineering projects. It is designed to show the public which (and how many) people worked with Brunel, and who were the most influential individuals within those networks of maritime innovators. This talk will demonstrate the value of such an innovative digital history project to maritime historians and other audiences.

Session 3 (13:30-15:00)

‘Travelling the Zooniverse: Medical Data from the Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital’

Martin Salmon (Royal Museums Greenwich)

This talk will discuss a current RMG/Zooniverse collaboration relating to the famous Dreadnought Seamen's Hospital, once situated in Greenwich. The project uses new technology to give vital e-volunteers working on digitized records more choice, enabling them to select tasks that suit their interest and time commitments. It is making a wealth of historic medical data available, providing us with a snapshot of the health of the British maritime world over the last 150 years.

Missing Medals: Unearthing Invisible Seafaring Histories of Empire

Asif Shakoor (Independent Scholar) & Dr Georgie Wemyss (University of East London)

Asif Shakoor will tell his personal story of researching his grandfather, Mahomed Gama, born in Punjab in 1895, who worked in the Merchant Navy during the First World War. After finding letters kept by his grandmother in his ancestral village in Pakistan, he has used online resources to track down records of his grandfather's maritime service and missing war medals. He will be interviewed by Dr Georgie Wemyss.

‘More than just a Register Book! Newly Accessible Sources At Lloyd’s Register Foundation’

Louise Sanger (Lloyds Register Foundation)

Having recently digitised over a million records from ship plans and survey reports to casualty returns and wreck reports, the Heritage & Education Centre at Lloyd's Register Foundation has been busy making things more accessible. This talk will explore this invaluable maritime collection and associated data set, presenting a selection of interesting discoveries and giving tips on how to find the best results. It will also look ahead to new online resources and interpretative material being made available soon.

Session 4 (15:15-16:15)

‘Maritime Sources in ‘Unlikely’ Places’

Chris Bennett (Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies)

Sarah Chubb (Derbyshire Record Office)

Robert Eyre (Warwickshire County Record Office)

Sally Mason (Buckinghamshire Archives)

With many reading rooms closed or harder to access, the pandemic has prompted researchers to look for new sources and reflect on where to find them. In this session, archivists from landlocked counties will demonstrate that it’s always worth looking for maritime sources in ‘unlikely’ places. Documents to be covered include an Elizabethan naval administrator’s documents, the papers of a seafaring chaplain, some of Nelson’s correspondence and nineteenth-century voyage journals.

Final thoughts (16:15-17:00)

Selected speakers will return to answer further questions and offer final thoughts from the day’s discussions.


Booking details

Please book via Eventbrite.

Suggested donation: £10 (£8 students & other concessions)

All funds raised go to academic prizes and other BCMH charitable work 

Any queries please contact us  by selecting 'General' enquiry type