Last week Heather and I had the great pleasure of presenting our paper A Life of Duty and Service at the Port Towns and Urban Cultures Conference in Portsmouth. The conference, which took place over three days, focused on
the waterfront as the intersection of maritime and urban space and the port town as a unique site of cultural exchange that both reinforced and challenged local, national and imperial boundaries.
The event was organised by the University of Portsmouth and the National Museum of the Royal Navy and the organisers are to be congratulated on running an brilliant conference with an admirably diverse range of papers, all of which were uniformly excellent. Many conferences strive to be “interdisciplinary” but few truly manage it, the Port Towns and Urban Cultures conference was a commendable exception. It was noticeable that many of the delegates commented how enjoyable the conference was and that it provided a really supportive environment in which to present their research. As one presenter remarked “all the questions were really helpful and no one was trying to score points.”
Our paper was one of only four covering naval topics, and the only one that focused specifically on naval personnel. The majority of the papers embraced an eclectic range of maritime subjects covering everything from the experiences of female dockyard workers and sailors wives, crime and disorder, the activities of waterfront preachers, the decline of the trawler industry, to companion animals at sea. It’s testimony to the quality of the presentations that I found myself riveted by papers on topics that I know absolutely nothing about! Isaac Land gave a thought-provoking keynote asking “Are Port Towns Transnational?” and, although I didn’t agree with all his hypotheses, his presentation left delegates with lots to think about, which is exactly what you want from a keynote.
I’m not going to attempt to summarise the papers we heard but I put together a Storify collating tweets and images from the conference which you can read here.
Unfortunately Heather and I had to duck out of the presentations on the second day to start work on our paper for the Recruiting the Royal Navy conference later in September. We missed several papers that I would really like to have heard, but it was great to be able to follow the gist of the presentations on twitter via the conference hash tag, so many thanks to all who tweeted!
Introducing the conference on the first day, Brad Beavan said that he hoped it might become an annual event hosted by other institutions, however the conference venues, the National Museum of the Royal Navy and the Royal Naval Club and Royal Albert Yacht Club, were so impressive that I suspect everyone will be rather keen to go back to Portsmouth! The Princess Royal Gallery at the NMRN, where Heather and I were lucky enough to present, has stunning views over HMS Victory and the view of Portsmouth harbour from the Royal Naval Club was idyllic.
The staff of both venues were also unfailingly welcoming and helpful. I’m tempted to say that the highlight of the event was dinner and drinks aboard HMS Victory, but the conference dinner at the Royal Naval Club was also rather special.
Many thanks to the conference organisers for putting together such an enjoyable event, it was a real pleasure to participate.