Archive for the ‘Maritime History’ Category

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that one of the projects that slowed me down a bit in getting back to working on the Old Town was a book chapter. I was invited to contribute to a volume on interpreting maritime history being edited by Joel Stone, a Senior Curator with the Detroit Historical Society, which manages the Detroit Historical Museum and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. The book, titled Interpreting Maritime History at Museums and Historic Sites, was published in March 2017. Copies are available from the publisher. 

My chapter is titled “Curating and Exhibiting Recreational Boating.” Here’s a little extract:

If you were to ask a visitor to a maritime museum or historic ship to name important themes in North American maritime history, it is reasonable to expect that they would mention at least some of the topics that make up the chapters in this book: whaling, naval affairs, shipwrecks, commercial shipping, lighthouses and inland waterways. It is also reasonable to expect that far fewer, if any, of them would mention the fiberglass runabout on its trailer in their driveway, or the personal watercraft at their vacation house. And yet pleasure boating is and has been an activity of significant economic and social consequence, and is worthy of consideration as an important part of maritime history. But it’s only pleasure—how could it possibly be as serious a topic as the navy, or exploration, or shipping? In the words of naval architect and historian Douglas Phillips-Birt, from his book An Eye for a Yacht,

Yachting was as exclusive, as brilliant, as undemocratic as a Florentine palace. And it was creative. Some of the most original and talented minds in several countries devoted themselves to the creation of the yachting fleets—men who might have reached the top in any sphere of imaginative work. (London: Faber & Faber, 1955, pp. 13-14)

The high net worth individuals who commissioned grand yachts from designers such as the Herreshoffs, C. Raymond Hunt, Clinton Crane, Starling Burgess and Olin Stephens were no less patrons of genius than the Renaissance princes who bought out the best work in the artists they supported. Their choices, exercised free of almost all of the constraints that normally bind you and I, are therefore a truer index of desire than many more pragmatic and workaday decisions.


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