Centre for European and International Studies Research

Port Towns, Urban Cultures

National Museum of the Royal Navy

In partnership with the National Museum of the Royal Navy
Website: www.port.ac.uk/porttowns

The Port Towns and Urban Cultures group is dedicated to furthering our understanding of the social and cultural contexts ports across the globe from the early modern period. It recognizes the importance of ports as liminal places where marine and urban spaces converge, producing a unique site of socio-cultural exchange that reinforced and challenged identities, perceptions and boundaries.  Established in 2010 by leading members of the History team at the University of Portsmouth, the group comprises a team of academics from a range of socio-cultural disciplines, an international array of contributors and collaborators and a number of PhD researchers. It is intended that the project will produce an output that will have a significant impact on both academic audiences and the wider general public.

PTUC’s core objective is to explore the liminal societies at the intersection between maritime and urban cultures. PTUC has forged a strong European network of academics and in this next phase aims to further establish its reputation beyond Europe. The key activities within the next year such as applying for an AHRC networking grant and continuing to develop an academic journal, an annual conference together with a greater spread of members researching, publishing and applying for grants are designed to take the research group to the next level. To this end, the bulk of resources will be directed to employing a RA (0.8) to conduct research and assist with the coordination of the significant range of activities planned for 2016-18.

The research group is based in the Milldam Campus in the School of Area Studies, History, Politics and Literature


see also: porttowns.port.ac.uk/staff-profiles/

Brad Beaven (Project Leader) 

Brad is Professor in Social and Cultural History. He is currently researching the cultural construction of sailortowns in ports in the nineteen and early twentieth centuries. He has published widely on popular culture and the city.

Melanie Bassett 

Mel is Sessional Lecturer in History and completed a PhD titled ‘The Royal Dockyard Worker in Edwardian England: Culture, Leisure and Empire.’

Karl Bell

Karl Bell is Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Social History. His most recent research on port towns focuses on the interface between urban and maritime folklore and the transmission of supernatural beliefs overseas during the nineteenth century.

Anna Bowman

Anna Bowman is Naval Heritage Archivist, seconded to HMS Warrior 1860 as the Ship’s Archivist. As part of the project team, Anna will be working on the new MA Naval History and will facilitate access to Warrior’s Archives and collections and archives at sites within Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Rob James 

Rob is Senior Lecturer in Social History. He is currently researching leisure provision and consumption in Portsmouth and Plymouth in the first half of the twentieth century, assessing the response of the civic elites to the growing number of leisure activities on offer to the towns’ naval and civilian populations.

Mathias Seiter

Mathias is Senior Lecturer in History. His current research on port towns focuses on German naval towns and seaports, in particular Kiel, Wilhelmshaven and Bremerhaven between 1871 and 1918. His main research interests lies in Central Europe during the long 19th century and German-Jewish history.

Brett Stevens

Brett is Director of Postgraduate Programmes for the School of Creative Technologies

James Thomas 

James is Reader in Maritime History. His recent research has entailed a close examination of shipping post-1740 in the context of Hampshire. He is also exploring celebration of royal birthdays in the context of the use of urban space in the eighteenth century.

Recent Publications

  • B. Beaven, K. Bell and R. James, eds., Port Towns and Urban Cultures: International Histories of the Waterfront, c. 1700 – 2000 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).
  • Brad Beaven “The Resilience of Sailortown Culture in English Naval Ports, c. 1820 – 1900,” Urban History, FirstViewArticle Online, (2015). 
  • Karl Bell, “Civic Spirits? Ghost Lore and Civic Narratives in Nineteenth Century Portsmouth,” Cultural and Social History, 11, no.1, (2014). 
  • Rob James, “Cinema-going in a Port Town, 1914-1951: Film Booking Patterns at the Queens Cinema, Portsmouth,”Urban History, 40, no.2 (2013). 
  • Brad Beaven, Visions of Empire: Patriotism, Popular Culture and the City, 1870-1939, (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2012). 
  • Karl Bell, The Magical Imagination: Magic and Modernity in Urban England, 1780-1914, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2012). 
  • Chris Reid, and M. Sondergaard, “Bilateral trade and fisheries development: the Anglo-Danish trade agreement, 1933,” Scandinavian Journal of History, 37, no.1, (2012). 
  • James Thomas, “Portsmouth Naval Academy in the Age of Nelson: A reassessment,” International Journal of Maritime History, 23, no. 2 (2011). 

Recent Conferences & Activities

  • International Congress for Maritime History, Perth, June 2016
  • PTUC hosted the inaugural Solent Maritime History Network meeting with colleagues from the Universities of Southampton and Winchester. Future workshops will be held, with the first in early Spring 2016.
  • Hakluyt Society Conference, University of Hull, November 2015.
  • The Port Towns group co-hosted the British Society of Sports History South Summer Workshop: Leisure and Coasts, Ports and Waterways, June 2015.
  • British Commission for Maritime History: New Researchers in Maritime History, Greenwich, April 2015.
  • Social History Conference, Portsmouth, April 2015.
  • First World War Researchathon, Portsmouth City Museum, January 2015.
  • Brad Beaven co-curated the ‘Lest We Forget Exhibition,’ Portsmouth City Museum, July 2014.
  • Sickly Slums and Sailortown’ School Outreach Event, June 2014.
  • Sixth Swedish Historian’s Meeting, Stockholm, May 2014.
  • Port City Lives, Liverpool, September 2013.
  • The International Conference on Port Towns and Urban Cultures, hosted by the Port Towns group and the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth, July 2013.
  • Maritime Social and Cultural History Workshop, Aland Islands, Finland May 2013.
  • Geography of the Unconscious, University of Cambridge, April 2013.
  • Sixth International Congress of Maritime History, Ghent July 2012. 
  • Social History Conference, Brighton, April 2012.
  • Port City Lives, Liverpool, May 2012.


  • The Port Towns and Urban Cultures research group are in a Port City Lives network with the Universities of Liverpool, John Moores, Hull and Warwick. 
  • The Port Towns and Urban Cultures research group are in a Mapping the Waterfront network with the University of Gothenburg, the Maritime Archives at the Regional State Archives of Gothenburg and the Maritime Museum, Gothenburg.
  • The Port Towns and Urban Cultures research group are currently working with members based at the University of Southampton and University of Winchester to develop a Solent Maritime History Network.
  • The Port Towns and Urban Cultures website and social media platforms facilitates a growing online network of international contributors and collaborators. The website is also home to Isaac Land’s The Coastal History Blog.

External Funding

  • 2009 AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award with the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard Trust.
  • 2013 Brad Beaven is a Co-Investigator in the AHRC funded 'Gateways to the First World War' Centre.
  • 2015 Rob James is a project partner on a HLF project with Portsdown U3A exploring the impact of the Battle of Jutland on Portsmouth.
  • 2015 Brad Beaven and Melanie Basset for an AHRC funded project titled ‘Mapping the National Impact of the Jutland Battle: civic and community responses during the First World War.’