Conference season again. Last week – ‘Statesmen and Seapower’ at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth. This week – Naval Dockyards Society conference at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Next week – hitting my head slowly and repetitively against a wall in yet another attempt to remind myself that agreeing to give papers at two conferences just a week apart is a staggeringly stupid idea. Looking further ahead, though, I’ll also be speaking at a ‘conference by any other name’ in Hastings on 4 July, of which more anon, and will also be off to the big conference on the Tudor and Stuart Age at the National Maritime Museum later in July, albeit this time as a common-or-garden delegate.
A couple of years ago, I posted a delegate’s guide to maritime history conferences, so here’s my summary of the ‘Statesmen and Seapower’ conference using the criteria that I set out there.
- Purpose – all boxes ticked and principal criterion met, i.e. ‘academic historical conferences exist solely so that delegates can meet up again with people they met at previous conferences, and to bitch about the people who haven’t turned up to this one’.
- The Conference Programme – ‘One of the most abiding laws of conferences is that the programme is never, ever, right.’ Well, this time it was, thanks to the excellent organisation by Duncan Redford and Simon Williams, although it was unfortunate and beyond the organisers’ control that several speakers had to withdraw at the last minute for personal reasons.
- The Graveyard Shift – Tell me about it; I was speaking in the last session of the day, when delegates were keen to get to HMS Victory for drinks on the quarterdeck. No pressure on timing at all, then.
- Sleep – Less of an issue at this conference than at many I’ve been to in the past, except during the one paper that overran. And overran. And overran some more.
- Victuals – Dinner on the lower gun deck of Victory, on mess tables slung in between the cannon. Let’s face it, for an experience like that, it wouldn’t matter if you were eating rancid pigeon burgers – not that the caterers’ splendid fare resembled them in any way.
- That Guy – You know the one I mean. He’s the one who always asks a question, whatever the topic is. He usually sits at or near the front. The question will be very, very long, and will often bear no relationship to the topic. Or else it won’t be a question at all, and will be an extremely long-winded anecdote based on the individual’s own experience, which, again, usually has no relevance whatsoever to the topic under discussion. Yes, he was there.
- That Other Guy – Yes, so was he. (See the original post.)
My own paper was entitled ‘The British Navy under the Later Stuart Monarchs: Royal Plaything or Instrument of State Policy’. It looked at the role of Charles II and James II in naval affairs, and drew in part on some material I’ve previously published in this blog – notably in my three posts (this one, this one, and this one) on the naming of Stuart warships. I was on a panel with Alan James, who was looking at very similar questions in relation to Louis XIV’s France, and Gijs Rommelse, who examined the use of the navy in the ideology and imagery of Dutch republicanism. By coincidence, these papers dovetailed remarkably well with a couple of those in the previous session: Beatrice Heuser’s on the sixteenth century origins of English naval strategy, which covered aspects of the ‘sovereignty of the sea’ and the importance of the ‘myth’ of the Anglo-Saxon king Edgar that I then continued in my talk, and Benjamin Redding’s on aspects of English and French naval policy from the 1510s to the 1640s, which raised the question of the political importance of ship names that I continued to develop in my paper. I’ve never known such completely coincidental dovetailing to work so well at a conference!
Anyway, I’m looking at a completely different theme on Saturday, at a NDS conference focusing on the royal dockyards during the Napoleonic Wars. I’m talking on ‘The Strange Life and Stranger Death of Milford Dockyard’ – an odd tale of xenophobia and political skullduggery during the brief history of the short-lived predecessor of Pembroke Dockyard, featuring such figures as one of the principal characters from The Madness of King George, Sir William Hamilton, and, yes, Horatio Nelson himself. My paper is also a bit of a ‘detective story’, in which our intrepid hero sets out to discover whether anything actually remains of undoubtedly the least known royal dockyard in the British Isles.
Finally, to Hastings on 4 July, and what promises to be a fascinating day entitled ‘All About the Anne‘ – the wreck of an important Third Rate man-of-war of Charles II’s navy, lost during the Battle of Beachy Head in 1690, and the subject of several previous posts (here, here, and here) on this site. This study-day-cum-conference is taking place under the auspices of Hastings’s splendid Shipwreck Museum, and will feature a number of talks about the ship herself and her times. I’ll be speaking on ‘Pepys’ Navy’, and will also be reading Frank Fox’s important study of the ship losses during the battle, which first appeared in this blog and provides an almost certainly definitive identification of the so-called ‘Normans Bay wreck’. So if you fancy a day at the seaside, complete with ice cream, Punch and Judy, and some seventeenth century naval history, then head down to Hastings in July!