Munich Centre for Global History

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Lives in Transit: Steamship passages in the late-19th and early-20th century world

Lives in transit are a key feature of the 21st century world. Today, social orders are established and can flourish independently from territorial orders. Movement, transition and exchange form the frameworks within which contemporary societies, and groups in those societies, reinvent themselves. This project offers new historical context for such contemporary phenomena by examining past experiences of globalisation. It proposes that we focus on steamships as exemplary historical spaces of transit, and on the people within these spaces - crew, passengers, stowaways, patients - as the understudied protagonists of globalisation during the period in question. The project asks how historical actors on long-distance steamship passages negotiated their social positions during this phase of transit. It examines processes of identity- and community-building, as well as the particularities of social orders on ships. How did a sense of community emerge on the ship? How did 'passengers' (broadly defined) reassure themselves of land-based markers such as social status and national identity vis-à-vis other seaborne groups and vis-à-vis the world outside the ship? What were the emotional, psychopathological and physiological consequences of being in transit? Where did the journey begin, and where did it end? The project's principal aim is to reconceive our understanding of global connections and of the historiographies they inspire - 'connected', 'entangled' and 'global' history. Using the steamship as an exemplar, the project takes transit to be both a phase and an epistemological paradigm. It combines social, cultural and digital history approaches to the subject matter in order to highlight the profound social, cultural and political ramifications of being in transit - ramifications that are relevant also to today’s world. In so doing, we offer new ways of framing and narrating the discipline of global history itself.

Nature of the project:

DFG-funded project within the D-A-CH programme



Participating researchers: