“Vessel of Globalization: The Many Worlds of the Edwin Fox”


Project Summary:

“Vessel of Globalization: The Many Worlds of the Edwin Fox” is an historical project with the overarching goal of exploring the crucial late 19th and early 20th century phase of globalization using the ship the Edwin Fox as a vehicle. Built in Calcutta in 1853, the ship was the last of the so-called “Moulmein traders.” By the time it was decommissioned in 1883, it had sailed around the world more than thirty times and played an active role in many of the developments that constituted the beginnings of modern globalization. Afterwards it served until 1905 as a floating freezing unit for the nascent frozen meat trade from New Zealand to Great Britain.

Globalization is a concept developed by social scientists to describe a late 20th-century phenomenon that seemed novel; however, the development of regular and sustained patterns of global exchange capable of producing profound change in society is a process with deep historical roots. The period from 1800 to 1914 was particularly crucial, witnessing the rapid expansion and intensification of trade around the globe; the spread of industrialization to many regions; the great thrust of Western imperialism; the unprecedentedly large migrations of people, both free and forced; the systematic dispossession of Indigenous Peoples and their replacement with settler populations; the integration of settler colonies into imperial markets; and sweeping environmental change. These are the specific issues we will probe through the Edwin Fox, whose life coincides with the years that have been called the “inner focal point” of this period. In addition to its main job of transporting basic commodities such as rice, tea, and timber around the world, it carried British troops to and from the Crimean War and to India to suppress the “Mutiny” of 1857; indentured labourers from China to Cuba and from Mauritius back to India; convicts, some of them convicted in Canada, from Great Britain to Australia; and settlers from Great Britain to New Zealand.

By focussing on the life of one quite ordinary ship between 1853 and 1905, this study of the Edwin Fox will make an entirely original contribution to our knowledge of these crucial decades in global history. While some scholars have used individual men or women or commodities to explore this story, ours will be the first to use the voyages of a single ship to do so. Despite their ubiquity and their centrality to the long-distance movement of goods and people well into the 20th century, ships themselves have largely evaded global historians’ sonar. This unique perspective will permit a more intimate understanding of the human agencies and the human costs involved in the most important period of global integration to occur prior to the one we have been experiencing since the 1990s.

This project involves original research in archives in Australia, Canada, Cuba, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom where holdings relating to the Edwin Fox have been identified, and Cuba. Sources include Lloyd’s List, which will provide the data for the interactive digital map; ship’s records, which will tell us more about the career and crews of the Edwin Fox; convict records, which will allow us to narrate the stories of some of the prisoners the Edwin Fox carried to Australia; and first-hand accounts of immigrants who sailed on it from Great Britain to New Zealand, which we will use to discuss the immigrant experience. These archival findings will be the basis of a microhistory of the Edwin Fox which will be contextualized using diverse secondary literatures to explore the broader themes of globalization. The primary outputs will be: a publicly available interactive digital map of the voyages of the Edwin Fox that will appeal to multiple audiences; two conference presentations and two articles, one in a scholarly journal and one in a popular history magazine with a global reach. After the research phase supported by the IDG ends, we will produce a short, well-illustrated book written in a lively and engaging style directed at a popular as well as scholarly audiences.

Project Description:

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Project Type:
Funded

Project Role:
Co-Investigator

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Canada

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Collaborator:
Adrian Shubert

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