Hindsight Perspectives for a Safer World Project

Call for historians to write papers for Hindsight Perspectives

We are looking to commission historians to write three more reports for the project in 2022. These will be on specific topics within maritime and engineering history, using the archives and the Foundation’s own key challenges as the starting point, and drawing out lessons for the present as the maritime world seeks to decarbonise. The reports will be aimed at an audience of professionals and policy makers. They are envisaged at 5k-7k words and this is a paid commission.

We hope this will be of interest to all historians researching in this area who want to make industry contacts and contribute to policy and public discourse. Report authors should hold a PhD but, as with many of our projects, we hope to work with historians at a number of seniority levels so you may not have an academic affiliation currently.

The subject areas can be developed in discussion but might include, for example, innovation and development in shipping technologies and how these were implemented in the past, how maritime and engineering knowledge and practices were developed and passed on, how communities and industries managed marine and other environmental resources in the past and what the lessons might be for sustainability today. The Foundation’s HEC collections span the rise and fall of shipbuilding nations - with the UK (and Europe) at one end of the spectrum and Japan, Korea and China at the other. In contrast, nations like Bangladesh are at a different stage in their shipbuilding development - but with striking contrasts and comparisons to earlier industrialisation seen in other countries. What can be learned about these transitions and how they have varied to help inform future changes? What value can a study of the innovation, research and collaboration in this space add? What has resulted in the largest stepwise improvements in safety at sea? How were the skills needed for safety developed over time and in different specialisms? Reports could also look at safety and risk management in the historic fishing industry, public attitudes to and economic provision for risk, injury and death in coastal communities, safety developments in equipment and in nautical design, innovation in the history of marine engineering, histories of adaptation in extreme environments – there is a plethora of opportunity to learn from past activity at sea. The focus can be regional or global. 

We are particularly looking for historians who are interested in the following topics:

Ports and their hinterlands, past and future

There are two particular areas of modern relevance here: the role of port infrastructure, labour and skills problems in the current shipping crisis, and the prospect of dramatic infrastructure change over the next few decades as the shipping industry decarbonises. The current crisis is not entirely about shipping capacity – it is about the effects of Covid on logistical labour supply, and about bottlenecks in one place creating bottlenecks further down the chain. So for example, lack of HGV carrying capacity to move containers away from port areas (both in the UK and elsewhere) has resulted in huge storage problems and shipping lanes are changing as a result. How have ports expanded (often within very limited urbanised space) and how have port communities responded to growth and change in the past? Who have been the winners and losers, and how do ports benefit (or not)? We think one of the project reports could focus on how ports have fitted into their surrounding economic, cultural and environmental landscape, and how they have handled transformational technological and economic change, how the coastal community works in relation to the port, and how suitable transport and logistical links developed in the surrounding area.

The history of engineering education and the next forty years

Skills development in the shipping sector is a key focus at Lloyds. Every engineering sector is facing the problem of how to upskill the next generations of engineers and technicians in an era of radical and enforced technological change. Marine engineering, as a subset of engineering in general, underwent rapid change in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and so did the educational structures – informal and then, increasingly, formal – that supported it. Some engineers working in academia and associated with the Lloyds project are discussing the path-dependent nature of their field; their contention is that the highly standardised educational structures we have are actually driving policy and constraining the practical possibilities. In order to adjust to the new realities of a decarbonised industry – and world – engineering education itself needs to change. We are interested in commissioning a report on previous times of rapid change and growth in education and skills, probably in engineering areas but also potentially taking in the development and transmission of skills and training within coastal and maritime communities generally. What can we learn from skills transmission in the past and how were great changes in knowledge structures incorporated into practical reality?

For further information or to discuss this project, please email Alix Mortimer alix.mortimer@kcl.ac.uk.


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