Hindsight Perspectives for a Safer World Project

Exploring the International Journal of Maritime History - a guide for industry

In a previous post exploring the International Journal of Maritime History, we looked at articles using Lloyd’s Register materials as sources, or even as subject matter. This serves to underline to historians how much useful material there is in the Lloyd’s Register Foundation archive – but what about knowledge transfer in the opposite direction?

It can be difficult for professional bodies and corporations to benefit from academic scholarship, even when they are conducting research and insight activities. The closed subscription model of academic publishing is one barrier – there are multiple sources of information that industry stakeholders find useful and, ultimately, limited resources. Access to academic journals may not be at the top of any acquisition list unless there is a specific use case. Even if access to the material exists (since journals are usually bundled by publishers), units conducting industry research cannot be experts in everything, and a unit that knows its way around an engineering literature, or one in conservation, or in human factor management, may not also have a history specialist aboard. It can be helpful to have a guide, maybe a professional contact with an academic or research cluster – which is exactly the kind of network of relationships this project seeks to build.

Where should an industry researcher start?

All that said, it is easy to get started with making an assessment of maritime history scholarship as a potential input to research goals. A small time investment in online search can give you an idea of what is being actively researched and perhaps point the way to sources of expertise. Maritime history is a good field to seek connection with – the IJMH is the pre-eminent dedicated journal, so while much excellent scholarship is published elsewhere (including in journals not limited to the maritime sphere), it is still a useful way of taking the temperature on a given topic. The indices of the journal are searchable and abstracts can be read for free, enabling possible useful avenues to be identified. Inputting the following search terms, for example, comes up with these results among many others:


Technological change and Glasow’s Dock labour Force 1860 – 1914, Kenefick (2001)

Technology and productivity in the Port of Gothenberg 1850-1965, Hamark (2014)

The emergence of the engineer in the British merchant shipping industry, 1812-1863, Milburn (2016)


Brazilian manatees (re)discovered: Early modern accounts reflecting the overexploitation of aquatic resources and the emergence of conservation concerns, Vieira and Brito (2017) 

Fish, politics and protectionism since c.1750: introduction, Wilcox (2017)

Australia's Antarctic (Southern Ocean) Fisheries: A Case Study of the Development of Trans-National Capitalism, May (2006)


Serving seafarers in the Boston Harbor: Local adaptation to global economic change, 1820–2015, Cadge and Skaggs (2018)

Welfare in British merchant seafaring Kennerley (2016)

The internationalization of shipboard space and communities: A historiographical study of Norwegian-owned shipping, 1939–2014, Sætra (2015) 

The journal has been publishing since 1989 so these items are alongside dozens or hundreds of other articles and reviews – probably at least one or two of the above are going to spark the interest of teams working on those topics, depending on their angle and interests. Generally the more specific the search terms, the better.

Deep-diving the journal: two example articles

What happens when you get past the paywall? It seems likely that industry researchers will experience initially trawling a journal in much the same way academic researchers do. It may take a few hours, at the end of which you will have a useful median list, a lot of things that can safely be discarded, and one or two gems that point the way to other information you need and experts you can seek out. The extra piece of information industry researchers will get is simply a basic insight into what is being researched, and this may be a valuable outcome in itself.

Path dependence and change in the Spanish port system in the long run (1880–2014): An historical perspective (Castillo and Valdaliso, 2017) is a great example of the authors themselves doing the heavy lifting of bringing together the history with contemporary concerns:

The aim of this article is to describe and explain the evolution of the Spanish port system and its main ports over the long run. Building on the literature on path dependence and port evolution, we set up an analytical framework with three broad driving factors – economic, technological and institutional – in order to explain path dependence and change in the ranking of the largest Spanish ports. The port system shows a trend towards de-concentration between 1880 and 1990, mainly due to the decline of former leading ports in the first half of the twentieth century and by the appearance of emergent ones in the second half of that century. Besides, there is a small club of leading ports that have managed to maintain themselves among the top ten throughout this period.

The article opens with a useful discussion of the existing literature – much of it from economic and transport geographers who have analysed the contemporary picture. Studies have looked at the processes of concentration and de-concentration of port systems, and how ports have specialised and become more efficient and competitive (or not). The present authors are tying this literature into a longer view:

The development of the Spanish port system from a long-term perspective has largely been neglected by scholars, although a few very broad overviews have been published, none of which have drawn upon quantitative evidence.19 Port historians with a particular interest in long-term and holistic perspectives have mostly focused on single port studies that cover different aspects of port evolution (traffic, port management, operations, functions, infrastructures), but have not dared to study in depth the evolution of the port system as a whole. On the contrary, transport economists and geographers do frequently resort to comparative analyses with quantitative methodology, but they have a short-term or even static perspective and consequently their works do not go back further than the 1980s at best. We attempt to build a bridge between these two academic communities by providing a quantitative long-term analysis of cargo throughput for the most important ports and a tentative explanatory framework, with a holistic perspective, that may inspire further research.

Anyone producing work on the future development of port systems (with a view to predicting the impact of green corridors, for example) can glean some great illustrations of port development and decline from the analysis itself. But more than that there is a great opportunity here to drill down into a lot of recent highly relevant literature, from various fields, through this one history-focussed article.

From a grand sweep analysis to (what appears to be) a very particular focus: Food justice, common heritage and the oceans: Resource narratives in the context of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (Sackel, 2017) looks at the UN conference convened in New York in 1973, part of the series of conferences that have resulted in the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea was an arena in which global resource equity was negotiated in a process that extended beyond the governmental actors who took centre stage. But our perceptions of the role of an increasingly civil society in framing national decision-making processes during the 1970s – for instance, through trade associations or nongovernmental organizations – is blurred. Both civil society and economic actors crafted similar policies, though for different purposes: some – with regard to the north–south divide – focused on the conservation of the ocean’s resources over the long term, whereas others were more concerned with short-term economic benefits. This article asks which arguments legitimized property and usage rights, and which resource narratives were used. By taking into account the charged relationship of local–national–global reaches, it also examines perceptions and management of resources in the context of resource equity on a global scale.

Specifically the historian is looking at the “resource narratives”, the background of mounting concerns in the 1970s among policy makers and the public in Western industrialised countries as “It became evident to societies who were accustomed to growth that there was no unlimited wealth of resources, whether of oil or fish.” She focuses in further on the perspectives of two actors – the Western German fishing industry and Elisabeth Mann Borgese, a maritime law and policy expert and a key figure in the history of the Convention – but this article is a window on a vast range of issues of interest to contemporary researchers. It is a primer on some of the key outcomes of the Third Conference, on an industrialised fishing industry in the 1970s, and on the roots of resource equity narratives today, at the same time as being an exploration of how international governance is formulated and by what kinds of parties. What seems to be a detailed focus can pick up some of the most important longer trends and problems in governance and resource management, as well as explicating the specific 1970s-1980s roots of current trajectories.

The takeaway for industry researchers

Journal indices (which can generally be freely searched) can be used to provide a picture of recent research on a given topic. Those coming from an industry perspective and interested in the history of offshore fire safety, for example, or the early development of hybrid fuel vessels, or the economic rise and fall of ports in different economic and geographical situations, can get an idea of what has already been explored by maritime historians – not a complete idea but a good one – by searching the index of this field-leading journal. Even a survey of relevant article titles may be of value in itself in a scoping study. Articles of all kinds, including those that have a particular focus, can provide a route to a much wider literature, and of course a route to the people and institutions interested in your topic.

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