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MC12.1 Ships' Newspapers

Transculturality in a Nutshell: Ships' Newspapers as Mirrors of Passenger Life on Intercontinental Steamers

Koordination: Roland Wenzlhuemer


Time was passing slowly on intercontinental vessels during the nineteenth century. The days on open water were long and offered few distractions for ships’ passengers. Therefore, the compilation of ship newspapers became a popular pastime on board of many liners. While the organization and means of publication of these newspapers differed heavily, they shared one characteristic: they were produced by passengers for passengers. These publications are a rare source of information regarding everyday life aboard intercontinental ships as well as social microcosms and group formation processes on the move.

Johanna de Schmidt, PhD Project: Experiencing transit in a globalizing world: Shipboard periodicals aboard intercontinental vessels in the 19th century

This PhD project explored newspapers written, edited and published aboard intercontinental ships in the nineteenth century. Shipboard periodicals not only deal with everyday issues aboard the ship, but simultaneously reflect on the place of departure and mirror the expectations for the place of arrival - regardless if these were located in the colonies or in Europe. Also, the numerous gazettes, journals and bulletins speak in a vivid way about how passengers experience the places where ships had to call at along the way - for example, Cape Town, Port Said, Suez or Colombo.

One key concept of this project was that of transit/transition. The passengers compiling these amateur newspapers do no longer belong to their place of departure, but have not yet reached their place of arrival; they are in a state of limbo. While forming manifest global links through their intercontinental travels, the passengers aboard editing these newspapers, however, find themselves confined in almost complete isolation, as wireless communication was only introduced aboard ships in the beginning of the twentieth century. Their random community of fellow travellers and crew is prisoned within the narrow spatial limits aboard a moving ship for weeks or even months. Therefore, the PhD project analysed how this situation was perceived by the historical actors themselves and consequently, how it was depicted in their self-made publications.