A message from IMHA president, Ingo Heidbrink

Dear Colleagues:

It’s already a while since the most successful International Congress of Maritime History in Porto and while we are all back to our regular jobs and are dealing with various day-to-day obligations, the new Executive Committee of IMHA has also started work.

The new Executive, which will serve only for a two-year period up to our next congress to be held in 2024 in Busan, South Korea, instead of the regular four year period, has decided on the following points as its top priorities:

  • Preparation of the 2024 Congress, which will be the first International Congress of Maritime History ever to be held in an Asian country. Right now, the Executive is developing together with the local organizers headed by June Kim the basic framework for the congress. As always, preparing an international congress is the work of many colleagues and while the local organizers and the Executive are prepared to carry out most of the work, there will be a need for volunteers from the membership to staff the program committee, to help with identifying the best keynote speakers, to spread the word about the congress and much more. Please be prepared considering serving in one of these functions. More details will be published on the IMHA webpage.

  • 2024 Frank Broeze Award for the best PhD thesis in maritime history. During its most recent meeting the Executive has decided to announce again a Frank Broeze Award for the best PhD thesis in maritime history to be awarded at the 2024 congress in Busan. The full announcement of the award including details on eligibility, the selection committee for the award, instructions for submission etc. will become available in Spring 2023. Nevertheless, please start spreading the word already now and most important, please inform your PhD students that there will be a new round of the Frank Broeze Award for the best PhD thesis in maritime history.

  • Realizing that we are in the 21st century and thus in the era of digital communications and social media, the Executive has decided to discontinue the traditional IMHA newsletter. Instead of publishing a quarterly newsletter, IMHA will use the news-section of the IMHA webpage as well as the IMHA Facebook page to continue with the dissemination of all kinds of news related to the association, news on maritime history conferences, CfPs, CfAs, news from national maritime history umbrella organizations etc. We are hoping that this new format of communication will allow for a timelier distribution of news.
    If there are any pieces of information you would like the Executive to consider for distribution via the IMHA webpage, please submit either to Constantin as Secretary of the Executive or directly to me.
    Please note, the quality of any newsletter or news-section on the web-page of an association like IMHA directly depends on the information available for distribution. If we don’t receive information from our members and partnering institutions, there is only little we can share. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you are not sure if something might be a good fit for the news section of the IMHA webpage.

Finally, please allow me a brief remark on the future of IMHA: Having been member of IMHA association and its two predecessors, the International Maritime Economic History Association (IMEHA) and the International Congress of Maritime History (ICMH) for more than two decades, I think the main strength of IMHA is being a network and such a network is depending on all members of the network. Way too often our area of research is understood as somewhat exotic or even marginal at many of our home institutions and colleagues at the office next door to yours will often have no idea at all about your research or about what are cutting-edge research topics in maritime history. While we might not be able to change this situation, we are able to build up an international network of colleagues (and often professional friends) that are sharing the same research interests and understand the needs of each other. Let us use this network to design new international research cooperation, to organize guest professorships and research stays, to bring together colleagues working on comparable subjects, and much more.

Doing so will require all members becoming active and in addition to convince our young colleagues that there is a benefit in joining an international association like IMHA. Even if some of our younger colleagues might be somewhat reluctant when they are hearing the term maritime history as they are wrongly associating the term with an outdated antiquarian approach to maritime history and old salts telling sea-stories, many of them are doing fascinating research that deals with various aspects of the interaction of humans and the ocean throughout all historical periods. Thus, let us not focus too much on the term of maritime history but on the subject itself regardless whatsoever term we are using for it. Ask those young colleagues to publish their research in the International Journal of Maritime History as our flagship project, ask them to apply for the next Frank Broeze Award if they are recent PhDs or are working on completing a PhD thesis, ask them to propose a paper for our upcoming congress in Busan, and finally offer to them the whole network of IMHA as a resource they can utilize. Be prepared to guide them to a colleague that might reside and work in a different country or continent but might be the highly familiar with their research topic. In short, try to make them part of our network – not by simply asking them to join IMHA, but by explaining to them why this network might be of help to them and their research.

Allow me to conclude with a note that is not directly related to maritime history. Many of us grew up professionally at a time when we were thinking that major international conflicts and wars were to a certain degree just a thing of the past. The Cold War had come to an end at nearly every place of the globe and despite hundreds of smaller conflicts continuing or breaking out, we were convinced that international cooperation of scholars was more or less always possible, regardless of the nationality of the colleagues involved. In the recent past we needed to learn that this was at least to a certain degree a naïve take on the world around us.

What does this mean for us as a community of international maritime historians, or you might say scholars or intellectuals? Shall we give up continuing all cooperation with certain colleagues just because they are working in certain countries, regardless if they are close to the respective regime or not? In my opinion the answer to this question is a clear No. Not all members of IMHA might agree with this and not necessarily even all members of the Executive Committee, so this is a strict personal opinion: Cooperation between scholars might not be able to change the world for the better in the immediate, but in the long run, working together in our quest to analyzing the past for understanding the today will help to create a better future for all and IMHA and our network might be a very minor part when it comes to achieving this goal, but a part that is equally important than all the other very minor parts. Maritime history is international by its very nature and let’s not forget this simple fact right now, but embrace it and bring it to live, even if only with the limited means available to us as a global network and umbrella organization of maritime historians.

Ingo Heidbrink


International Maritime History Association (IMHA)

In Memoriam: Dr David M. Williams

David Williams, who died at the age of 80 on 19 March 2021 following a severe stroke, was one of my oldest friends. Our friendship, like that between many other maritime historians, was first forged at conferences. We both participated in the St. John’s Newfoundland Maritime History Group conferences ‘Volumes not Values’ (197 ) and ‘Working Men Who Got Wet’ (197 ). I learned then that David was both an excellent scholar, and an extraordinarily warm and friendly person. Back in England, David was an obvious choice of speaker for the 1981 Charted and Uncharted Waters conference organised by Glyn Williams and myself at Queen Mary, University of London, where again he delivered an important paper. Indeed, looking at the list of David’s abundant publications since these early years, it is striking how many of these originated as conference presentations. It is, however, no surprise that he received many invitations. Not only could David be relied upon for a well-researched original piece (no ‘pot-boilers’ for him), but his rhetorical style of delivery, worthy of the stage, could be guaranteed to enliven proceedings. His fine strong voice may perhaps have owed something to welsh ancestry and Caernarvon up-bringing.

David’s student years at the University of Liverpool, where he was taught by Sheila Marriner and Francis Hyde, founders of the ‘Liverpool School of Maritime History’, stimulated an interest in the subject, although he always described himself as an economic historian. His 1963 MA on ‘The Function of the Merchant in Specific Liverpool Import Trades 1820-1850’ reflected the Liverpool focus on maritime business, but appointment as an assistant lecturer at the University of Leicester just a year later brought him into contact with the trade and shipping historian Ralph Davis, who influenced his subsequent research, encouraging a broader scope. In 2000, when David’s academic contribution was honoured by the IMEHA in Merchants and Mariners: Selected Maritime Writings of David M. Williams, compiler Lars Scholl identified these themes: ‘the economic (trades, deployment of the merchant fleet, and state regulation of shipping) and social (many aspects of the seaman’s condition)”.

More recently, David also investigated maritime tourism and, in a fruitful collaboration with the late John Armstrong, reconsidered the transition from sail to steam, challenging the conventional view that this was a drawn-out process. David’s expertise and judgement were also reflected in several skilful historiographical surveys.

Puzzlingly, despite his exceptional record of more than fifty scholarly publications, and the considerable esteem in which his scholarship was held by his peers, David evidently regretted that he had not undertaken research for a PhD in the early years of his career, and therefore lacked the title. In 2004, under the title ‘British Merchant Shipping and its Labour Force in an Era of Economic Expansion and Social change, 1790-1914’ he submitted a selection of his work for a doctorate by published work at the University of Leicester and unsurprisingly was awarded the degree.

David’s contribution to maritime history went well beyond his own research. A founding member of the Editorial Board of our predecessor organisation, the International Maritime Economic History Association, his stalwart service to the Journal included serving as Chair and a stint as Editor. The same exceptional organisational and administrative talents were put to use as the Secretary of the British Commission for Maritime History. It was David who in 1993 proposed an annual series of New Researchers in Maritime History conferences, which continues to prosper, and initiated prizes for undergraduate dissertations. Anyone who worked with David on these international and national organisations would become familiar with his gentle prompting and the “Can we have a quiet word?”, designed to ensure everything ran smoothly and amicably. There were indeed several occasions when, after a message from David encouraging me to attend a particular seminar because he feared a low turn-out, on arrival I found a packed room filled, no doubt, with those he had similarly persuaded.

All this activity and hard work went on against a background of family responsibilities, inspiring teaching at the University of Leicester and service as External Examiner. Yet, although it took its toll, seemingly David took everything in his stride, with undimmed enthusiasm and generosity with his time.

David burnished his world-wide friendships and there will be many like me who never went to an event without hoping he would be there, ready to share his great fund of stories, latest terrible jokes and, as an avid collector of historical postcards, news of recent acquisitions. A learned man, with learning lightly borne, he was a sharp commentator on the world and its ways. As maritime historians, we owe a great debt to David Williams for his role in laying the foundations of our discipline as a collaborative international endeavour. On a personal level, there will also be many who lament the passing of a good friend.

Emeritus Professor Sarah Palmer, University of Greenwich

Dr David M. Williams (1940–2021)

David Malcolm Williams was an outstanding scholar, colleague, teacher and mentor who contributed enormously to the development of maritime history in the United Kingdom and internationally.

David spent his early years in Caernarvon, leaving as an eighteen-year old in 1958 to start a BA in Economics at the University of Liverpool. He joined an intake of 12 students, which included Peter Davies, later also an accomplished maritime historian, who became a lifetime friend and collaborator in national and international professional associations. The latter recalled David as coming from a ‘quite conventional and close-knit family’, yet also taking ‘full advantage’ of the extra-curricular opportunities offered to a new undergraduate in Liverpool.

David went up at a particularly auspicious time. The Department of Commerce and Economics included a group of gifted economic historians, led notably by the Chaddock Professor, Francis Hyde. Hyde amongst others formed what was known as the ‘Liverpool School of Maritime History’. Under their influence, David chose economic history options in his final year, graduating as the best student and winning the Gladstone Memorial Scholarship which allowed him to proceed to an MA in 1961. The topic he finally settled on for his dissertation was ‘The Function of the Merchant in Specific Liverpool Import Trades, 1820-1850’. Like all postgraduate economic historians, he was supervised by Hyde himself.

In 1963, after an unexpected vacancy, David was appointed Tutor in Economic History at Liverpool, a role in which he first displayed his talent for teaching. It also set him on his future path. The following year, he applied successfully for an assistant lecturership in Economic History at Leicester, joining Professor Ralph Davis in October 1964 as the nucleus of what would become one of the leading departments of Economic and Social History in the country. For the rest of his career, David was an immensely versatile teacher, a memorable and entertaining lecturer, the saviour of lost undergraduate causes, and an unfailingly helpful colleague and mentor. He was unflappable. Whether in Department meetings or as an external examiner, his judgement were trusted and reliable. He always got on with what he was asked to do.

Beyond the University, David’s growing international reputation as an original and innovative maritime historian led to his deepening involvement in scholarly networks and professional bodies at home and abroad, beginning notably with the Atlantic Canada Shipping Project and the associated Newfoundland seminar during the 1970s. He served as Secretary to the British Commission for Maritime History (1989–1998); as President of the International Maritime Economic History Association (2001-2004); and successively as chair of the editorial board (1990–95), editor (1995–98) and editorial board member (1999–2001) of the International Journal of Maritime History.

Additionally, he was a review editor and editorial board member of the Journal of Transport History and an adviser to the Centres for Maritime Historical Studies at Exeter and Port and Maritime History at Liverpool. David excelled in all these capacities because of his human qualities, his scholarly standing and his considerable administrative skills. He actively promoted his discipline, created opportunities for new researchers, and acquired the most formidable network of contacts and friends.

As a scholar, David exemplified a new approach to maritime history which placed the subject in its broader economic and social settings, thus widening its scope and increasing its relevance. In the introduction to his PhD, awarded by the University in 2003, he described himself as ‘an economic historian specialising in the field of maritime history’. His key influences were Hyde, Davis and the subject’s other ‘founders and promoters’, and his training as an economic historian was evident in the analytical rigour of his work and his systematic use of statistical sources. His interests were wide-ranging. He made important and innovative contributions to the histories of merchants and shipping in the Atlantic commodity trades, the social history of seamen, the beginnings of state regulation of conditions at sea, the origins and development of pleasure cruising, and the early history of steam navigation, much of his work in the last two areas with his long-time collaborator, John Armstrong. Another distinguished colleague, Skip Fischer of Memorial University in Canada, who generously acknowledged his own intellectual debt to David, described his work on bulk passenger trades in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (‘bulk passengers’ including slaves, emigrants, convicts, indentured servants and contract labour) as ‘undeniably seminal’. Fischer also wrote on the occasion of David’s sixtieth birthday: ‘David’s place in maritime history far transcends his individual publications, for his vision of what this discipline ought to be has had a particularly significant impact on the way in which most of us think about what we do’. David’s preferred medium was the essay. He published some 50, either as book chapters or in scholarly journals, alongside five edited books and sundry other pieces. Two collections of essays were published as books. The first, Merchants and Mariners: Selected Maritime Writings of David M. Williams (2000), in which Fischer’s appraisal appeared, included a personal tribute by Peter Davies. The second, The Impact of Technological Change: The Early Steamship in Britain, co-written with John Armstrong, was published in 2011. One further collection, under the title ‘British Merchant Shipping and its Labour Force in an Era of Economic Expansion and Social Change, 1790–1914’, with a valuable introduction by David, was successfully submitted for the award of his Leicester doctorate in 2003.

The first of the collected volumes was presented to David as a token of appreciation and esteem at the Third International Maritime History Congress in Esbjerg, Denmark, in August 2000. David’s retirement as a senior lecturer in the School of History at Leicester in 2005 was marked by a similar gathering of friends and colleagues for a symposium and evening celebration, with both Davies and Fischer in attendance. The affection and regard for David on this occasion was palpable. To all who encountered him, whatever their background, age or circumstances, he was unfailingly humane, tolerant, kind and good humoured. He had a vast repertoire of stories and anecdotes, which enlivened his teaching and entertained his colleagues. His lectures to students and scholars were performances which might conclude with spontaneous applause. He was an indefatigable collector of postcards, travelling regularly to fairs in the Netherlands. His was a keen eye for a bargain, including the comforts of the members room at the Royal Academy which, for a modest subscription, he used as a base for working visits to London.

For all his many qualities, David was a deeply self-effacing person who avoided pretension, disliked the limelight and saw things for what they were. He died on 19 March leaving his wife Maureen, two children, Tristan and Penny, and three grandchildren, Benedict, Josephine and Carenza. He will be remembered with a smile and great affection.

Dr Bernard Attard

Director of Education (History)

School of History, Politics and International Relations University of Leicester

November 2020 Issue of IJMH

The November 2020 issue of IJMH has been published and is available at this link.

The issue includes:

Editorial, David J. Starkey, Martin Wilcox
Maritime cultural encounters and consumerism of turtles and manatees: An environmental history of the Caribbean, Lynn B. Harris
Georgian Liverpool’s northern whaling trade reconsidered: Ranking, significance and geography, Simon Hill
The pirates of the Defensor de Pedro (1828–30) and the sanitisation of a pirate legend, Sarah Craze, Richard Pennell
Natural, artificial or imported? Ice supplies for the German distant-water fisheries as an example of renewable vs. fossil-fuel based supplies, Ingo Heidbrink
The curious case of the ‘Steam Yacht’ Caroline: An incident from the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, Roger Dence
Allied blockade in the Mid-East Atlantic during the First World War: cruisers against commerce-raiders, Javier Ponce
Oil transportation: Eni’s fleet, Italian ports and pipelines, 1950-1980, Ilaria Suffia, Andrea Maria Locatelli, Maurizio Romano
Playing maritime capital: The Baltic Sea in the touristic representations of St. Petersburg, Alexei Kraikovski, Nikita Bogachev, Ivanna Lomakina
British Commission for Maritime History: MA Prize
‘Beyond the limit of human endurance’: The stolen Manx history of Dunkirk, David Kneale
Research Notes
The development of maritime radar. Part 1: Before the Second World War, Dimov Stojce Ilcev
The development of maritime radar. Part 2: Since 1939, Dimov Stojce Ilcev

World’s largest historic and traditional fleet threatened?

“As bankruptcy looms for many skippers, an ‘irreplaceable’ part of the Netherlands’ maritime heritage is at risk”.

Alarming headlines in the national and international media, like this one in the Guardian of July 15, focus on the dramatic consequences of Covid-19 for Dutch maritime heritage. Over the past 50 years a fleet of a few thousand historic vessels has been preserved by private owners. About ten percent has been converted into charter vessels, sailing with groups in inland and coastal waters. About one third of this group is certified to sail the high seas. Roughly two dozen is working truly globally, from the NW passage to Antarctic waters.

Most of the historic ships are used as sailing houseboats, the smaller as yachts.

The direct threat of Covid-19 concerns the ten percent, the charter fleet. These vessels simply do not fit in to what has become as familiar as it is notorious in the past few months, the “one and a half metres society”. Until June vessels were not allowed to sail with passengers. The market collapsed. It is estimated that the fleet will miss 70 to 80 percent of its turnover in 2020. Nobody knows whether the specific sailing charter market will recover in 2021.

The short-term consequences for The short-term consequences for individual skipper-owners are dramatic. Already some of them are facing bankruptcy. But, in a wider perspective, the situation is even much more serious. With the establishment of the professional charter fleet in the past decades an associated infrastructure has been developed which is vital for the total heritage fleet. Now, not only the charter agencies or the specialised classification organizations are in crisis, but small scale businesses like shipyards, sailmakers, leeboard, mast and block makers are heavily dependent on the charter fleet. These professionally used ships are easily making ten to twenty times the number of sailing days the other historic vessels made.

The real problem is a matter of scale. If the number of professionally used sailing ships drops under a certain limit, the companies of the infrastructure will lose their economic base. That will not only affect the charter vessels, but the total Dutch heritage fleet.

Nobody knows yet what that limit is. Let us hope we never find out.

Frits Loomeijer