In partnership with the National Museum of the Royal Navy

The Port Towns and Urban Cultures group is dedicated to furthering our understanding of the social and cultural contexts of 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.

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


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 Faculty Research Fellow in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Portsmouth. She manages the PTUC website and social media outputs alongside undertaking her own research on port towns. Her PhD research, ‘The Royal Dockyard Worker in Edwardian England: Culture, Leisure and Empire’ re-examined the concept of a monolithic imperial identity and tracked the nuances of working-class imperialism. Her current research expands on her original thesis to explore the affect of empire on those workers who went to work in the Royal Dockyards abroad such as Bermuda, Malta, Gibraltar and Hong Kong.

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.

Matthew Heaslip

Matthew is Lecturer in Naval History. His research focuses upon the twentieth century Royal Navy and its role within Britain’s wider imperial system, during both peace and war. Matthew’s current research explores how the Royal Navy actually used its dominance at sea in East Asia to project power over other nations on a day-to-day basis through gunboat diplomacy, amphibious operations, and imperial policing. 

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.

Rudolph Ng

Rudolph is Lecturer in Global History. His research interests revolve around global migration in the nineteenth century and its relations to concepts of humanitarianism and labour rights. 

Cathryn Pearce

Cathryn is a Part-time Senior Lecturer for the MA Naval History programme. Cathryn’s current research focuses on the history of lifesaving and coastal communities, with particular emphasis on the role of the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society, founded by some of the most important naval officers of the nineteenth century.

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. 

Recent publications

  • Melanie Bassett, “Port towns and diplomacy: Japanese naval visits to Britain and Australia in the early twentieth century,” International Journal of Maritime History, 32, 1 (2020).
  • Matthew Heaslip, “Britain's armed forces and amphibious operations in peace and war 1919-1939: a Gallipoli curse?,” The Journal of Strategic Studies, (2019).
  • Rob James, “‘Read for victory’: public libraries and book reading in a British Naval Port City during the Second World War,”     (2018).
  • Cathryn Pearce, “Extreme weather and the growth of charity: insights from the Shipwrecked fishermen and Mariners' Royal Benevolent Society, 1839-1860,” in G. Endfield and L. Veale (eds) Cultural Histories, Memories and Extreme Weather: A Historical Geography Perspective (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018).
  • Cathryn Pearce, “Charity and philanthropy in a coastal world: Scottish fishing communities and the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners' Royal Benevolent Society, 1839-48,” in David Worthing ton (ed.) The New Coastal History : Cultural and Environmental Perspectives from Scotland and Beyond (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017)
  • Melanie Bassett, “Regional societies and the migrant Edwardian royal dockyard worker: locality, nation and empire,” in N. Lloyd-Jones and M. M. Scull (eds) Four Nations Approaches to Modern 'British' History: A (Dis)United Kingdom? (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).
  • 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).

Recent conferences and activities

  • In March 2021 PTUC will host the British Commission for Maritime History: New Researchers in Maritime History conference at the University of Portsmouth.
  • In April 2021 PTUC will hold its fourth international conference at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
  • BAME Seafarers in the First World War. Projects, Resources and Support workshop, in partnership with AHRC funded ‘Gateways to the First World War’ and the National Archives, Kew January 2019.
  • New Perspectives on Coastal and Maritime History conference, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, July 2018.
  • BAME Seafarers in the First World War workshop in partnership with the AHRC funded ‘Gateways to the First World War,’ January 2018.
  • HLF-funded ‘Theatre of War’ project with the King’s Theatre, 2017.
  • ‘Intersecting Port Cities’ workshop with Kobe University. Kobe, Japan, June, 2017.
  • Maritime Masculinities Conference, December 2016.
  • 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 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.’
  • 2017 Rob James from the Daiwa Foundation for international collaboration on Port Cities research with colleagues in Japan.
  • 2020 PTUC’s strong network and international reputation was the basis for the new Faculty international doctoral bursaries and the University’s first split-site PhD. Halmstad are sponsoring a PhD bursary which amounts, in UK terms, to approximately £60k. The bursaries will be advertised this month. Brad Beaven and Simon Stewart led this initiative.

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