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Call for Papers: Naval Expertise and the Making of the Modern World

Model Basin NH 89718

David Taylor Model Basin inside Building 70 at the Washington Navy Yard in 1898, the site of cutting edge naval research in the first part of the 20th century. NHHC photo NH 89718.

May 10-11 2013
Wolfson College, University of Oxford

This conference examines the generation of expertise in naval contexts and trace how such developments helped shape the modern world. Expertise will be considered not only as knowledge but also as methods and practices central to the evolution of modern nation-states and empires.

In the search for useful knowledge and in answering the demands of global infrastructure, navies have not only pursued military aims, but have encouraged the formation of other areas of expertise, whether medical, technological, or bureaucratic. Recent research has identified navies as forerunners of modern scientific research, social disciplinary practices, and political economy for instance. This conference will explore such developments comparatively and consider their influence in the early modern and modern periods. By exploring how issues such as social welfare, professionalization and industrialization shaped and were shaped by naval institutions and innovations, this inter-disciplinary conference will link scholarship on naval infrastructure with research on the origins of the modern world

The major themes of this conference will address naval participation in four overlapping features of ‘modernity’:


  • the role of naval science, technology and medicine in imperial expansion
  • global exchange and expansion of scientific and medical knowledge
  • naval exploration, encounters, and new frontiers


  • evolutions in naval research and technology
  • naval infrastructure, maritime communities and the provision of welfare
  • cultures of innovation and conservatism in the navy
  • the impact of naval institutions on the industrial revolution


  • the navy as a ‘laboratory’ of modern pharmaceuticals, surgery, and clinical medicine
  • the navy and the management of disease
  • the navy at the interface of science and technology


  • naval infrastructure and ‘the expert’ in the modern state
  • naval professionalism and the authority of the state
  • changing criteria for naval recruitment and the pursuit of national efficiency
  • the navy and the origins of human resource management

Proposals for individual papers and panels are welcome. Individual paper proposals should include a 250-word abstract and a short CV; panel proposals should include three paper proposals and a chair. Proposals and questions should be sent to: [email protected] Deadline for submissions is 31 October 2012.

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