Seminar: Boyd Cothran and Adrian Shubert, ‘Vessel of Globalization: The Many Worlds of the Edwin Fox, 1853-1905’

The merchant vessel Edwin Fox wasexceptional for being unexceptional. It was old fashioned even before its keel was laid down in Thomas Reeves’s shipyards near Calcutta in 1853. It was neither large nor fast, and had none of the prestige of the great tea and opium clippers that captured the public imagination in the mid-nineteenth century. The Edwin Fox was a small, ugly slowpoke in the heyday of the age of sail and a lonesome survivor in the age of steam, and from a mariner’s perspective it sat at the bottom of the hierarchy of opportunities.

Yet the life and career of this undistinguished ship coincide with a pivotal era in globalization: the years between 1860 and 1890 that Jurgen Osterhammel calls the “inner focal point” of the 19th century. And the Edwin Fox participated in many of the developments that made these years so crucial: 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 large-scale and systematic dispossession of indigenous peoples and their replacement with settler populations; the integration of settler colonies into imperial markets; and environmental change on a massive scale.

This talk will combine archival research and Arc GIS mapping to reconstruct the many worlds of the Edwin Fox. Emphasizing stories of integration, interactions, and entanglements, this paper describes the ways in which the unique perspective of this single ship can provide to a more intimate understanding of the human agencies and the human costs involved in the most important period of globalization to occur prior to the one we have been experiencing since the 1990s.

Boyd Cothran is Associate Professor in the Department of History at York University and the co-editor of The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. He is a historian of the 19th-century and the author of Remembering the Modoc War: Redemptive Violence and the Making of American Innocence (University of North Carolina Press, 2014), which received the 2015 Robert M. Utley Prize for the best book in military history from the Western History Association and was a finalist for the Best First Book in Native American and Indigenous Studies from NAISA. He has also written for the New York Times, Indian Country Today, and other venues, both public and academic. More recently his research interests have gone more global in scale. He is currently finishing an edited volume titled Women Warriors and National Heroes: Global Histories (under contract with Bloomsbury) and working on two book length projects that combine global history and microhistory. The first, co-authored with Adrian Shubert, is Vessel of Globalization: The Many Worlds of the Edwin Fox, a history of the crucial late-19th and early-20th century phase of globalization using the ship the Edwin Fox as a narrative vehicle. The second is Around the World: A History of Circumnavigation in the Nineteenth Century.

Adrian Shubert is University Professor of History at York University in Toronto. His research has focused on the social, cultural, and political history of 19th and 20th century Spain and his major publications include Espartero, el Pacificador (2018), The West and the World: Contacts, Conflicts, Connections (2002), and Death and Money in the Afternoon: A History of Spanish Bullfighting (1999).  He is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Killam Research Fellowship, and his work has been recognized by his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and his decoration by King Juan Carlos I of Spain with the Order of Civil Merit. 

Venue:            Old Kirk 406 (F L W Wood Seminar Room)

Date:               Friday, 14 June 2019

Time:              12:10pm to 1:30pm

For more information: Contact Charlotte Macdonald (; 04 463 6761).