Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Off to Sea (Again)

I think all maritime historians have a more or less secret desire to run off to sea. Maritime history is only one of my research interests, but I'm not immune to the lure of the ocean. I've thought a lot about what it must have been like to work and live aboard a sailing ship. Now, I have the chance to put some of my ideas to the test in a voyage sponsored by the Sea Education Associaton.

Beginning on November 12, I'll be aboard the SSV (Sailing School Vessel) Corwith Cramer as a guest "voyager" during the Cramer's sail from the Canary Islands across the Atlantic to Dominica and the U.S. Virgin Islands. I'll be participating in shipboard activities, working with the eight undergraduate students who are studying science and the humanities aboard the ship this semester, and conducting my own research.

SSV Corwith Cramer, a steel-hulled brigantine constructed in 1987. From SEA, here.

It's rather hard to do traditional historical research aboard a ship, with no archives and no internet. But so what? Historians are more versatile than you might think. While I'm aboard the Cramer, I'll be editing a couple of papers, massaging them towards their final, article forms. But I'll also be doing a lot of watching and learning, about the way a sailing ship works, about how sailors move and work aboard ships, and about what it feels like to be out of sight of land for weeks at a time. This is the sort of experiential learning that makes for good historical writing, because it helps us get closer to the lifestyles and feelings of people in the past.

And I'll be sewing, working to cut and construct replicas of the undergarments Richard Henry Dana Jr. made during his two years before the mast in the 1830s. I mentioned these unique garments before in connection with my ongoing "Whalemen and Waterproofing" project, and I'll also be thinking a lot about waterproof clothing while aboard the Cramer.

I expect I'll be quite busy. I'm sure you will be, too. But if you have some spare time and you're interested in following along, tune in for regular posts on the Cramer's blog, which will soon shift to documenting our voyage, here. Check back here for a series of posts about my experience coming in early 2015.