Elizabeth Alexander on ‘Material Cornerstones: Objects and National Identity’.

This week’s Politics, Development & Sustainability (PDS) seminar was given by Elizabeth Alexander and addressed the subject of Material Cornerstones: Objects and National Identity.

The seminar challenged us to think about the interconnection and interrelationship between bodies, objects, materials and political identities – and did so by reflecting on the extraordinary and highly mobile life of one particular object: a ship.

Video below


Launched as the USCGC (US Coast Guard Clipper) Northland, this icebreaking clipper initially plied the waters of Alaska as a mobile dispensary of medical care and US governance along the coastline of the vast US territory during the 1920s. By 1948, the ship – depleted of sails and internally reconfigured to house 2500 people – was in the eastern Mediterranean. Renamed Jewish State, the ship was engaged in transporting holocaust survivors from Romania and Bulgaria to Palestine, although was seized by the British during ‘The Blockage’ and diverted to Cyprus. The ship, renamed again as Eilat, would go on to become the first warship in the Israeli Sea Corp, the flag ship of the post-independence Israeli Navy, before being scrapped and given a state funeral in 1962/3.

Elizabeth’s work and seminar invites us to reflect on the role of objects within political geography research, and the methods by which these objects can be explored – whether (i) the excavation of paper trails (or ‘archive diving’), (ii) processes of imaginative and physical reconstruction (including building model ships!), or (iii) tracing the material remnants of objects ‘in place’.

Elizabeth Alexander
Elizabeth is a PhD student working between the departments of Geography and Politics & International Relations here at Royal Holloway, and is funded by one of the College’s Reid Studentships. Detailed biography.

PDS Seminars
The PDS Research Groups hosts regular lunchtime seminars on themes of politics, development and sustainability, given by PDS members and invited speakers.

The next seminar will be given by Jay Nam, PhD student in the Department of Geography, on the subject “Climate Change Governance & Regional Cooperation in Southeast Asia”. 1-2pm, QB136. All Welcome!


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