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By David Rooney on

Messing About In Boats

As you read this, I’m away on a short break, taking my first holiday on a canal boat with some friends.

Canals can tell us a great deal about our history and our national identity. This scene, on show in the ‘British small craft’ display in our shipping gallery, contrasts the old and the new on Britain’s inland waterways in the 1960s:

Canal boats display, Science Museum (David Rooney)

A working barge features in the foreground, while a (then) modern canal cruiser sits behind.

This shift of use, from haulage to leisure, is a fascinating story in Britain’s marine history, and the rest of the display similarly sheds light on how we felt about our coastal identity back in the 60s, and how it sat in wider culture.

British Transport Films cameraman filming canal boat, 1950 (NRM / BTF / Science & Society)

We’ve got a really interesting vacancy at the moment. If you’re thinking of starting a PhD, we’ve got funding from the Arts & Humanities Research Council to pay for a doctoral student to study our British small craft display.

You can find out more about the project, being run jointly between the University of Nottingham’s geography department and ourselves, here.

If you’re interested, please contact Professor David Matless at Nottingham for an informal discussion. Closing date for applications is Friday 4 June, with interviews being held at the Science Museum on Thursday 17 June.

Meanwhile, if I haven’t accidentally fallen in the Kennet & Avon canal, I’ll be back in London next week. Now, does anyone know how to steer this thing?