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MC 12.3 Cultural Practices at Sea

Cultural Practices at Sea: Ships in Times of War and beyond

Coordination: Roland Wenzlhuemer

Susann Liebich, Postdoctoral Project: Reading and Writing at Sea

The practices of reading and writing are fundamental to making sense of our world, to orientating ourselves within familiar and new surroundings, to negotiating and maintaining identities, and to cultural exchanges in global and local contexts. This project explores reading and writing practices on sea voyages during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by a range of actors and within a variety of contexts, from nineteenth-century migrants, to soldiers on troopships, ships’ crews, and leisure travellers of the mid-twentieth century. The broad research question is two-fold: How did reading and writing practices performed on ships influence and form part of the experiences of travel, and vice-versa, how did the unique floating space of a ship shape the practices and experiences of reading and writing? One of the case studies of the project explores the reading and writing lives of soldiers on New Zealand troopships during the First World War. Hundreds of transport ships crossed the oceans between New Zealand and the battlegrounds in Europe and the Middle East, a journey that could take several months. Soldiers on board these transports produced troopship magazines during the voyage, which speak of their experiences on board, reveal a sense of comradery and community amongst the men, and provided a means of negotiating the transition from citizen to soldier. Soldiers also interacted with and draw on print cultures at stops along the way, for instance in Freemantle, Colombo or Cape Town, which highlight the manifold cultural exchanges through engagement with print facilitated through oceanic travel.

Carolin Matjeka, PhD Project: From Ship to Shore. Wireless Telegraphy and Ships' Newspapers after 1900

In my PhD Project I focus on newspapers produced at sea with the help of wireless telegraphy. During their voyages, passengers spent time in between places and thus could perceive ocean travel as a liminal experience. Until the use of wireless telegraphy became a common practice in the 1910s, time spent on ships in transit was characterized by isolation. But since the Interwar period ships’ newspapers were an indispensable part of the travelers’ daily routine on board. The expanding web of wireless shore stations and the extension of reception range enabled communication for ships during their whole voyage. Thus up-to-date news reached the ship, with ships’ newspapers supplying worldwide news from the main news agencies. In addition, other contents like advertisements, serialized fiction, riddles and articles about miscellaneous, provides invaluable information about the travel industry at the beginning of the 20th century, the consuming habits, life on board, reading practices and literary as well as news interests of ocean going travelers in their different roles as migrants, tourists, business or leisure traveler.