2013 Conference for Port and Maritime History

Friday 13th September 2013

The ETIC research group at University of Liverpool was thrilled to be a part of Centre for Port and Maritime History Annual Conference on ‘The “Otherness” of Port Cities’. Held at Blackburne House, a former shipowner’s mansion, the group comprising Dr Ian Magedera, Professor Nandini Das, Dr Iain Jackson and Cleo Roberts, held a roundtable discussion from 10.45am-12.15pm. The focus of the roundtable was ‘Envisioning the Indian Port City as a Space for Colonial Encounter’. The session showcased the cities of Goa, Pondicherry and Kolkata.

Hosted by the Centre for Port and Maritime History, the day commenced with a welcome address from Professor Andrew Popp. The Thursday 12th September had been a fruitful day with an array of papers given by Paul van de Laar, Sheryllynne Haggerty and Derek Janes amongst others. The presentations had created interesting exchanges, which were to be continued throughout day two.

Dr Kirsty Hooper (University of Warwick) opened with her paper, ‘Otherness on Display: Traces of Hispanic Presence in Liverpool’s Museums’. The work analysed the Global City gallery in the Museum of Liverpool and its role in presentations of otherness. Framed by the notion of ‘global’, Hooper explored the artefacts as having a duplicity of locations: coded as being both Hispanic and global. The paper scrutinised the role of the museum and curatorial prerogative. Dr Hooper questioned how the different stakeholders involved, such as Barclay’s Wealth, affect curatorial agency? Which objects get privileged and how do these weave a narrative of imperialism? The paper concluded that the Museum articulated a binary conception of the Hispanic presence in Liverpool, providing no space for the entangled histories to become apparent.

Dr Guadalupe Garcia, (Tulane University) presented on the port city of Havana, ‘Havana in the Early Spanish Empire’. Her paper discussed the changing nature of walls in the city and their relationship to the production of urban space. Given the porous nature of ports rendering them pervious to colonial attack, Dr Garcia spoke of walls as structures of fear. Built to fortify the city against the dangers of the port, the presence of these physical boundaries was symbolic of anxiety in the pre-colonial era. Their subsequent decimation by the Spanish in 1863 was read as a metaphor for the colonial project.

Dr John Schofield (University of York) detailed his research on Strait Street (‘The Gut’) in Malta. His photographs and collected stories from the site intended to showcase the rich heritage of this isolated street that remains omitted from tourist maps and literature. The discomfort associated with its past excesses has created a dead space without flow, a stasis of peeling paint and faded signage. Dr Schofield spoke of his recent publication and the desire to excavate the memories and rejuvenate the headiness and exuberant past life.

A buoyant Q&A followed. Questions of responsible curation and preservation were amongst the topics discussed. The critique of display by museums moved into discussions about their purpose. Attention was drawn to pragmatic considerations involved in presenting objects and interpretations for a diverse demographic.

The ETIC roundtable was met with considerable enthusiasm and interest. Professor Popp introduced the project and expressed thanks for being included in the inaugural Liverpool reading group.  Dr Ian Magedera (University of Liverpool) introduced the speakers and spoke of the joint nature of the work with Jadavpur University across the four cities.

Professor Nandini Das (University of Liverpool) presented her research on Portuguese Goa in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. She introduced her work by speaking of the arrival and subsequent arresting of a group of Englishmen in Goa in 1583. Their bail by Padre Estavam and Jan van Linschoten allowed for the start of formal contact between England and India. This research demonstrated the transitional nature of loyalties in these fluid port cities making them a unique urban space and site of great interest for the ETIC project.

Plan de Goa, Jacques-Nicolas Bellin c.1750

Through a series of projected slides, Professor Das introduced a number of images charting the fortification of Goa’s identity as Portuguese. The visual representations of Goa and administrative policies aligned the city with Portuguese counterparts such as Lisbon and Malacca. She emphasised that her research was making evident the memories of elsewhere that become embedded in the port-city. Reading an extract from Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’ (1972), she concluded that tracking networks of memories combined with flows of global traffic might provide an entry point to the ‘otherness’ of the port city.

Dr Iain Jackson (University of Liverpool) presented his work on ‘Calcutta: The growth of an Indian Port City as depicted by British visitors from 18th-20th century’. Using the collections of the British Library and British Museum, Dr Jackson demonstrated a particular envisioning of the port city. Presenting a slideshow, he spoke about UK perceptions of Calcutta mitigated through engravings, lithograph and photography.

Engraving by James Moffat, 1789

Dr Jackson drew attention to the dismissal of the ports, river and docks in early visual sources hypothesising these would have been deemed too vulgar and commonplace for the imagined city the East India Company wished to export. He spoke of the gradual emergence of the river in paintings and etchings towards the end of the 18th century. Introducing engravings by James Moffat,  he commented on the stylisation of the river as a sleepy backwater lapping at the banks of mansions and palaces.

Coloured Lithograph, Charles D'Oyly, 1848

The lack of local presence in these images prior to 1840 was notable. Dr Jackson went on to show a painting by Charles D’Oyly (1848) depicting the Hooghly river as an activated space. He commented on the customs house replacing the Fort as the principle threshold and the flows of people and goods represented below the overexpansive skies. Other renderings of the time enforce the conception of the city growing out of the river. Dr Jackson concluded with a series of future research themes including cultural and artisitic timelags in the city’s representation and exploring the different genres of image making.

Dr Ian Magedera spoke on ‘’Portless’ Pondicherry 1899, a Contrarian Approach to the Port City in India’. Excerpts from Pierre Loti’s, ‘L’Inde (sans les Anglais)’ (1899-1901) were utilised to discuss the city’s isolation due to the absence of a port. Dr Magedera commented on Loti’s characteristation of the city as, ‘An old little town which lasts on account of tradition’.  The discussion of the rich text focused on the contrasts built between the French colony and British India. Loti’s representation was said to situate Pondicherry as a slow, antiquated city; a chasm of melancholic nostalgia against the fast optimism of British India. The absence of sailing ships juxtaposed the statuesque steamships in the Calcutta Dock images from Dr Jackson. Dr Magedera spoke of the extended metaphor of ships to describe the columns of the Statue de Dupleix and the city overall as an old sailing ship. He discerned that this sense of slowness remains citing the current Tourist Office slogan, ‘Pondicherry. Give time a break’.

Pierre Loti, L'Inde (sans les Anglais), Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1903

Cleo Roberts concluded with her work on ‘Waterscapes and Urbanism: visual representations of blue gold in Indian cities’. Approaching the city from the perspective of the water she spoke about the power relations that texture and are textured by this body as discussed by Professor Erik Swyngedouw (2004). Showcasing her initial research, Roberts used three images featuring waterscapes created by European males to discuss the recording of the port city of Calcutta.

Sallis's Dioramic Game of the Overland Route to India, 1852-1863

The array of images were said to be revealing of a cultural attitude. Presenting an extract and photograph from Eric Newby’s ‘Slowly Down the Ganges’ (1966) against an image and instruction text from William Sallis’s Dioramic Game of the Overland Route to India (1852-1863), Roberts commented on the continuity of representation of Calcutta through the flows of water. The apotheosis of the East India Company in the painting, ‘The East offering its riches to Britannia’ (1778), was of interest for the lack of geographical marker. Roberts spoke about the duplicity of water flowing from the urn of Father Thames and sitting thickly between the figures.

The East Offering it Riches to Britannia, Spiridione Roma, 1778

Following the presentation there was interest in the subject of flows of information between the Indian and Liverpool research teams. It was noted that over the course of the conference there had been little emphasis placed on port cities from the perspective of water. The audience were keen to hear about the progress of the project and the collaboration across the network.

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