‘Promoting Britishness: maritime exhibitions 1851 – 1924’
Building on my past research into the forging of civic and national identities in Britain, my current research examines the manner and extent to which international expositions and specialist trade and maritime exhibitions were used to promote specific but diverse notions of ‘Britishness’ between 1851 and 1951. I will spend my Caird Short-Term Research Fellowship exploring the ways in which maritime exhibitions contributed to this process at a local, national, and international level. To this end, the main portion of the three-month fellowship will be spent researching the items exhibited, the architecture of exhibitions spaces, the administration and curatorship of the events themselves, and the promotion and coverage of the exhibitions in the popular press and material culture.
In general, ‘maritime exhibitions’, which include fisheries exhibitions and naval exhibitions, have been neglected by historians and art historians alike. Where exhibitions have been considered in any detail, scholars have focused typically on displays of maritime painting and/or engravings. Rare exceptions, such as Geoffrey Swinney’s article on the Edinburgh International Fisheries Exhibition of 1882 (2004) and Steele and Benbough-Jackson’s work on the Liverpool Shipperies Exhibition of 1886 (2012) are limited in their scope and focus. For the most part, academic scholarship has overlooked the social and cultural significance of national and international maritime exhibitions and festivals. My current research seeks to redress this preterition and to recognize maritime exhibitions and festivals within the history of international exhibitions and World’s Fairs. My research will examine influential events, such as the Great International Fisheries Exhibition of 1883 and the Naval and Military Exhibition of 1901, as well as less well-known examples, including British contributions to the International Maritime Exhibition, Havre 1868 and National Maritime Exhibition in Cadiz 1887. The main body of the research will focus on the period 1851 (Great Exhibition) to 1924 (British Empire Exhibition), with a brief survey of events beyond these chronological parameters to provide a broader contextualization of the subject.
The research is part of a wider project that explores the exhibitions, international expositions and World’s Fairs of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as arenas in which local, regional, national and continental hierarchies were established and renegotiated.
The Collections of the Royal Museums Greenwich and the Caird Library in particular, contain an extensive range of material pertaining to these events. A provisional survey of material has revealed items ranging from catalogues to photographs, engravings, and the unpublished papers of Royal Commissions for British displays at foreign events, such as the Dutch Shipping Exhibition of 1913. The research has significant implications for the interpretation of specific events, maritime exhibitions in general, and the wider naval and imperial projects of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.