Floating about Maritime History 
 
 
 
 
 
Floating about Maritime History 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Floating about Maritime History 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Floating about Maritime History 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Floating about Maritime History 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Floating about Maritime History 
 
Floating About is a sometimes amusing, sometimes serious look at the state of maritime history, written by Scavenger, the editor of the well-established maritime history journal, Maritime South West. 

Floating about Fleetwood - Should We Ban the N-Word? 

This was the first article in the Floating About… series. It was published in Topmasts, the Newsletter of the Society for Nautical Research, no. 21, in February 2017, hence the references to the Society’s work, but is relevant to all organisations promoting links with the sea. It was written when I was moored in Fleetwood Docks, the previous summer. 
It has though, an excellent museum, which, given the town’s history, is mainly concerned with matters maritime. The museum costs £75,000 a year to run and has 11 ⁄2 staff and survives on a small army of volunteers. At the back of the museum in a purpose-built shed is the last wooden sailing fishing vessel still extant, the Harriet. In sad contrast to the Victory or the Mary Rose, it is quietly corroding away. Next year, Lancashire County Council is reviewing the situation and it may well close and even the larger and more prestigious Lancaster Maritime Museum is at risk. 
 
This article is slightly tongue in cheek but hopefully makes a serious point. I once saw tractors coming back across the sands of Morecambe Bay with their harvest of shrimps. During this visit I heard or read the comment, ‘The tide in Morecambe Bay comes in faster than a horse can gallop.’ I find the metaphor of the tide going out ‘as fast as a horse can gallop’ apposite to the state of maritime history. 
 
In the 15 years or so that I have been studying it, its move to the periphery of both public and academic life has been dramatic with Exeter maritime history studies a shadow of its former self, and Greenwich maritime institute closed. 
 
The study of maritime history is rapidly losing ground and the question is whether the trend can be reversed? Hence my semi-humorous suggestion: implement a Nelson (N) ban. For seven years (a generation of scholars), no essay, paper, article or research proposal should be accepted if it included the name ‘Nelson’. This can be done with a simple word search, and to prevent the ploys of the severely addicted, ‘one-armed’ and ‘one-eyed’ might also be added. Of course, this would require an unrealistic amount of co-operation but the idea is serious. The subject area is now so well-mined that only the trivial is being found, and this is being promoted as ‘a contribution’. But much more importantly, the Nelson fetish contributes to the feeling of stagnation in maritime history. It aligns our important area of study with the last night of the Proms when people fervently singing ‘Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the waves’ as if that were still actually true. We seem stuck in this idolatry and dysfunctional worship of Britain at the time of its empire. 
 
Academically, the function of the N ban would be to create exciting times – rather than just glorifying the Royal Navy and its major battles, it would encourage new ways of thinking about maritime history, give new faces a chance of establishing themselves, hopefully attracted to the freedom created. 
 
I suggest seven years because it takes two years to get an article written, submitted, reviewed, probably changed and published. Five years might encourage the present stake holders to sit tight for three years. To see their funding disappear for five years would encourage even them to think divergently. 
 
The close connections with HMS Victory make the SNR a major stakeholder in the idea so what could change? 
 
So, during the seven-year moratorium on all things N, it would be inappropriate to use Victory for the SNR AGMs. The AGM could move around the country, so that members can visit and support these museums and similar organizations (ancient yacht clubs?) that are at risk; and, by their presence, add much needed finance and visibility to their plight. Conferences could be held in university departments whose maritime work is under attack and encourage new blood and new ideas through prizes and bursaries. In short, it would use its clout to create new stakeholders; and maintain at-risk stakeholders, because, if they go, the SNR might continue, but its meaning and usefulness will be much diminished. 
 
Maritime history is too important to let it die or sink to the tokenism of one essay in an undergraduate course. The SNR needs to show an awareness of these issues and have an active strategy to attempt to reverse this ebbing away of an important part of our nation’s narrative. 
 
Michael Bender Honorary 
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