A Very Fond Farewell

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A new voyage awaits. From The Mariners’ Museum Library collection.

Hello everyone, and welcome once more to the Library blog. Sadly, today is my last day writing for you fine readers, and I want you to know what an honor it has been. When I arrived at the Library in June, I knew nothing about the SS United States, but with some guidance and access to the Library’s archives I was able to discover her very real and very poignant story. In my mind’s eye, she is not only AN ocean liner – she is now THE ocean liner, and still fastest in the world. I likewise new little about piracy, save that it was a problem off of Somalia. Through investigation of the Library’s resources and rare book collection, I found out where our modern conception of pirates came from and how much of a problem it still is even in the modern day. For the past six months, these topics have been the focus of my blog posts, but there in truth they only scratch the surface of what the Library has to offer.

For every photograph, book or document featured in my posts, dozens more exist in the archive. I could spend a lifetime documenting, organizing and analyzing the sources available here – nevertheless, I’m grateful for the six months I HAVE had. It has truly been a pleasure to work on the Library blog. The staff members have been universally kind and helpful, and I am still surprised at how much I learned. My deepest thanks go out to Jay, Jenn, Tom, Bill, Patti, and all the rest of The Mariners’ Museum Library family that made me feel welcome and helped me discover a whole new world hidden in the archives. Thanks for reading, and farewell.   Read more

The UN Security Council Addresses Piracy

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This service medal, issued during the Korean War, shows the insignia of the United Nations. From The Mariners’ Museum Library collection.

Hello readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. In response to the continual threat of piracy, the United Nations Security Council recently held its first ever debate on the subject. Lead by Indian ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, the council debated the need for better information sharing techniques, whether or not to continue using armed guards on merchant vessels, and the need for more powerful international laws and punishments for pirates. The full article is available HERE.

The fact that this is the first time piracy has ever been directly discussed and debated in the United Nations Security Council is an indication that, sadly, piracy is not on the decline. Rather, the debate reinforces the notion that piracy still is, and will continue to be, a powerful hostile force that the nations of the world need to unite against. Although many recent steps taken off the Somali coast have given us hope that piracy can eventually be defeated, it will likely be a long, hard journey to reach that conclusion. Perhaps the nations of the world can unite and crush this scourge in the near future. However, until that happens our maritime workers must live under an ever-present threat of harm and death from piracy, and consumers around the world will have to pay a little extra for many of the products we take for granted.   Read more

ATTENTION: Wooldridge Talk Tonight!

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Hey everyone! This is just a reminder that at 7pm tonight, the renowned map collector William C. Wooldridge is launching his new book at an event right here at The Mariners’ Museum! Published by the University of Virginia Press, Wooldridge’s Mapping Virginia: From the Age of Exploration to the Civil War contains hundreds of maps and represents a lifetime spent meticulously detailing the evolution of chartography during Virginia’s formative history. For those of you who can’t wait for the event to start, you can stop by The Mariners’ Museum Library anytime before 9pm and see some beautiful Dutch maps from the Wooldridge collection on display. The exhibit is called “Charting the New World: Dutch Maps from the Wooldridge Collection,” and is an excellent companion piece to the Wooldridge event at 7pm.  

The event will be held in The Mariners’ Museum Concourse area near the admissions desk. It will feature a lecture by Mr. Wooldridge himself and a display of some of his finest and rarest maps, followed by a light reception and a book signing. Remember, it starts at 7pm tonight, so bring your books!

A Lost Bounty

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The HMS Bounty, circa 1967. From The Mariners’ Museum Library collection.

Hello readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. Close to two weeks ago, Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern seaboard of the United States, impacting our lives from the Carolinas to Boston. While each person lost during this disaster is keenly felt, perhaps no single story is more relevant to maritime history than the tragic loss of the HMS Bounty and two of her crew. For the families of Claudene Christian and Robin Walbridge, our thoughts and prayers are with you.

What makes the HMS Bounty so special is that she was created out of period-correct materials, with the same tools they would have had back then and with the original building plans from the first HMS Bounty. The modern ship was not just a replica: it was an authentic rebuilding of the same ship, right down to the hand-bend nails in her keel. Constructed for the 1962 movie “Mutiny on the Bounty,” the tall ship HMS Bounty has since served in many motion pictures and as a unique piece of living history for the coastal cities of Britain, Europe and the United States.    Read more

Pirates in Anglo-American Culture

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A Jolly Roger flag flown by the USS Ranger. From The Mariners’ Museum collection.

Hello again, readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. A quick look at modern popular culture will make it clear even to the most casual of observers that the Caribbean Pirates of the 17th and 18th century are icons in family entertainment. Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” series has been immensely successful, and the 20th century is full of films about swashbuckling heroes and adventures at sea. And yet, a sampling of our news headlines paints a very different picture of piracy: container ships are ransacked, crews held for ransoms, and tourists are kidnapped or killed. Indeed, the world recognizes this problem and has deployed dozens of warships to counter the pirate threat to commerce and personal safety. Why is there such a dichotomy on the subject of piracy?

As a historian, it seems to me that the issue of piracy meets its natural response in the modern headlines: piracy has been reviled and combated since time immemorial, as it should be. The catch is that people also like stories of adventure, romance and rooting for the underdog. English (and by extension, American) culture especially has always had a bit of a rebellious streak, with heroes like Robin Hood robbing the superfluously rich and thumbing their noses at a corruption. For the Anglo-American world, pirates served as an excellent source of rebellious fun once they had faded into the past a bit, and books like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island capitalized on this fun in the late 1800s. About two centuries had passed since the buccaneers had last prowled the Caribbean, and it seemed safe to feature pirates as a source of adventure.   Read more