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Maritime Literary Cultures: Reading and Writing at Sea

Artist unknown: Reading on deck H. M. S. Orontes in the Atlantic, 1864. Alexander Turnbull Library, New Zealand.

The sea has seen a recent resurgence in scholarly interest across history and literary studies, in part spurred by a desire to understand the processes and effects of globalisation in its historical and contemporary contexts. But the sea is no longer just seen as a distance to be bridged or a highway to be crossed in the global flow of people, goods and ideas. Increasingly, new maritime histories focus on the sea, and on ships, as sites of historical interaction and lived experience. Journeys at sea often represent periods of being in transit: literally transiting through space, and metaphorically and imaginatively transiting to new worlds. Reading and writing are key cultural practices that facilitate and negotiate such emotional, imaginary and mental transitions.


This workshop seeks to bring together this interest in maritime history with the history of print culture and literary studies, focussing on cultures and practices of literary production, circulation and reception at sea across a broad chronology. Setting a new “agenda for an intellectual history of maritime worlds”, Kären Wigen has called on historians and literary scholars “to consider the sea as a site of intellection” and to understand oceans “as spaces of imaginative projection” as well as “sites were knowledge is produced and circulated”.  This workshop heeds this call and also adds a new understanding of oceans as sites of literary cultures, not just as sites of knowledge transfer.

We are particularly interested in papers that illuminate the sea and ships as sites and spaces of literary production, circulation, reception, and performance. In addition to presenting case studies of ‘maritime literary cultures’, papers may address but are not limited to the following questions:
•    What were the conditions and infrastructures that enabled literary cultures at sea?
•    How did the practices of writing, reading or literary performance shape and assist the experiences of being in transit – physically and mentally – and aid the transition between the familiar and the new, between the past and the future?
•    How did writing, reading and literary performances contribute to the ways in which voyages were lived out? How did reading and writing give structure to the experiences of travel?
•    How did maritime literary cultures contribute to the processes of trans-cultural and trans-oceanic exchange?
•    What role did existing reading and print cultures in port cities play in facilitating cross-cultural exchange? How did travellers access foreign infrastructures for reading and writing, and literary culture more broadly, in port cities?
•    In what ways did travellers draw on literary narratives of sea travel to construct their own narratives – in diaries, letters and other forms of writing – and to make sense of their own journeys?
•    How does sea travel and the condition of being at sea shape the practices and the experiences of reading and writing, and of literary performance?

Those interested are asked to send a brief paper abstract (max. 300 words) and a short biographical note by 31 July 2016 to Susann Liebich, at susann.liebich@asia-europe.uni-heidelberg.de. Notices of acceptance will be send no later than 25 August 2016. Some funding may be available to help with the costs of travel and accommodation, but presenters are encouraged to explore their own funding opportunities. Please indicate at the time of sending in your abstract whether you would need funding support to attend. The workshop itself will be free of a charge. It is planned that an edited collection of essays will result from the workshop.

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