The Coastal History Blog 32: Two Years of the Coastal History Blog

I started this blog in October 2013. I would like to thank the Port Towns and Urban Cultures group for continuing to host it!  It might be a good time to look back and consider the range of themes and topics that have come across these pages so far.

There wasn’t a single, convenient web page that united all of my blog posts, so I have assembled that here (you can bookmark it). They are listed not thematically, but in order of appearance.

What Is the “Coast” in Coastal History?

What Makes Coastal History Distinct? (part 1 of 2)

What Makes Coastal History Distinct? (part 2 of 2)

Are Islands Insular?

What Are Beaches For?

The Political Economy of Sand

The Tolerant Coast

Rivers of the Anthropocene

Coasts of the Anthropocene

Crossing the Bay of Bengal

Women in Port

Women as Tavern Keepers

Gérard Le Bouedec’s sociétés littorales

On Serendipity in Research

Imperial Russia Salutes its Navy (Julia Leikin guest post)

The Pious Coast

Iain McCalman’s Great Barrier Reef

Offshore and Offshoring

The Versatile Coast

Contemplating Time and Tide in the Sailor’s Magazine

The Cosmopolitan Port Town—Is There Any Other Kind?

Trained Researcher’s Eye… and What It Misses

Sailors on Bicycles

Port Geography at the Crossroads

The Encroaching Coast

Dibdin conference report

The Sailor’s Yarn

Jews and Muslims in Twentieth-Century France: The View from a Port Town

Are Islands Natural Prisons? (Katy Roscoe guest post)

Maritime Heritage and Social Justice

New Scholarship on the Press Gang part 1

New Scholarship on the Press Gang part 2

The Intolerant Coast  

How does all of this hang together? For readers interested in a short, citable overview, incorporating many of the themes discussed and books reviewed so far in the blog, my chapter “Doing Urban History in the Coastal Zone” will appear in the forthcoming Port Towns and Urban Cultures edited volume from Palgrave Macmillan.

Books, historians, and topics that I hope to cover over the next 12 months:

  • Brian Rouleau’s new book on American sailors abroad
  • Chris Magra’s forthcoming book on impressment
  • Horden and Purcell’s The Corrupting Sea
  • The upcoming “Firths and Fjords” conference in Scotland
  • Fiona Handyside’s Cinema at the Shore: The Beach in French Film
  • David Jarratt’s concept of “seasideness”
  • The new scholarship on “islandness”
  • The new scholarship on race, segregation, and urban beaches
  • Alain Cabantous’ still-untranslated works on maritime themes
  • Scott Laderman’s Empire in Waves: A Political History of Surfing
  • Andrew Lipman’s Saltwater Frontier about Native Americans
  • Twenty-first century coastal issues; sea level rise; coasts and renewable energy (tidal energy, wave energy, offshore wind farms); the “coastal squeeze” concept; “marine spatial plans.”
  • No doubt a little more on the “cosmopolitan” label for port towns
  • Possibly more on “offshoring” and the “offshore” as a legal category, whether in terms of oil spills or the legal status of waterborne migrants (as in Australia’s “Pacific Solution” and Europe’s new “migration route initiatives”).
  • With luck, a guest post or two. It would be nice to have someone write from a history of science, animal-centered, or environmental history perspective. A museum / curatorial perspective might also be interesting.

We’ll check back in October 2016 and see how well I did with this list! Thank you for reading, and I hope that the Coastal History blog will continue to be helpful for those with kindred interests.

Why is this worth doing? I’m aware that there is a certain amount of label fatigue, so expecting people to learn a new term like “coastal history” can be unpopular.  There are, however, practical benefits to defining, refining, and promoting the coastal history rubric within academia.

  • It will be easier to draw appropriate peer reviewers. This isn’t asking for a free pass, but both constructive advice and harsh criticism are most effective if they come from a scholar who understands the spirit of the undertaking.
  • It will be easier for books to find reviewers, and thus a readership. If this set of topics is viewed as falling between the maritime and the terrestrial realms, there’s a real danger that they will fall right through the gaps between the existing academic journals.
  • If there is no discernable “critical mass” of practitioners, coastal history projects may come across as quirky, frivolous, or marginal. It would really help to have one corner of the profession where the coast is a central concern and an obvious focus of inquiry. That is why many other disciplines, from ecology to engineering, have recognized, long-established coastal subfields.
  • Job candidates who come across as merely eccentric—“neither fish nor fowl”—are, at best, confusing to hiring committees. It is easier to take an academic subfield seriously if it has a name.

Using the #coastalhistory hashtag on social media is a small but practical step toward addressing these problems. So is the use of the term “coastal history” in titles, in abstracts, or as a searchable keyword.  It doesn’t cost anything, but in the long run it will build an academic community.  It also raises the profile of the whole endeavor, with many indirect benefits.  The journal editor who says “I’m not sure, but this sounds like a coastal history sort of thing” and sends an article to the right reviewer will have a decisive impact on the quality of the feedback received. If the net effect of the Coastal History Blog is only that a few young scholars, at a sensitive stage of their careers, encounter some peer reviewers who really “get it”… I will be well satisfied.

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