The University of Southampton
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Dr Jesse Ransley 

Visiting Fellow

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Dr Jesse Ransley is a Visiting Fellow in Archaeology at the University of Southampton.

I am a maritime archaeologist and anthropologist. I have a particular interest in the Indian Ocean and in the history and material culture of south Asian seafaring. My doctoral research was an ethnographic study of seafaring and boat building in Kerala, south India. It focused on enskilment and the bodily practices involved in building and working with ‘backwater boats'. My most recent project, for which I held a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship looked at south Asian seamen working on British vessels in the eighteenth century. It drew on written as well as archaeological sources in the UK, India and Australia.

Before joining Archaeology, I worked as a maritime archaeologist for English Heritage and for a commercial archaeology unit in the UK. As a result, I have a research interest in maritime heritage management and ethics, and completed a project, funded by English Heritage, to develop a maritime archaeological research agenda for England.

In addition to teaching within Archaeology, I have worked with colleagues in English, History, and Maritime Law to create a module about piracy for the university-wide, curriculum innovation programme. I was also part of the team that developed the Centre for Maritime Archaeology’s fantastic free online course, Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds. I am a former Chair of the Institute for Archaeologists' Maritime Group, am currently the Assistant Secretary at the British Association for South Asian Studies and was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 2014.




Research interests

I am an anthropologist of seafaring and oceans, particularly the Indian Ocean, past and present. I work on embodied knowledges, the materiality and temporality of oceans and the broader philosophical question of how we conceive maritime space.

To do so, I study subjects from traditional boatbuilding and watery landscapes to lascars and piracy, as well as maritime heritage management - taking an interdisciplinary approach, which incorporates archaeological and historical sources with anthropological perspectives and modes of enquiry.

My doctoral research focused on the bodily practices of boat building and seafaring in the backwaters of Kerala, south India, and two projects have developed from that work:

  • ‘Material Seas’ (with Dr Hannah Cobb) draws on ethnographies and archaeologies of watery places to interrogate the idea of the seascape and broader understandings of maritime space and temporality. 
  • ‘Assembling Boat Narratives’, a book length project, explores the material culture, enskilment and embodied knowledges of boat building and engages with larger debates about objects, materiality and assemblage theory. 

My new project focuses on the lives and labour of Indian Ocean seafarers on British vessels and explores ethnographies of seafaring and ocean in the eighteenth century.

Research group(s)

Maritime Archaeology

Affiliate research group(s)

Classical and historical archaeology

Research project(s)

Lascar Lives

From the 17th century, the labour of south Asian sailors (known by Europeans as ‘lascars') underpinned transoceanic trade and the development of early colonial power structures. Yet they are largely invisible in histories of British maritime trade and Empire. In response, this project highlights the potential of an interdisciplinary approach to studying the lives of these sailors.



Book Section(s)

  • Early modern and industrial - Ransley, Jesse and Dellino-Musgrave, Virginia. In People and the Sea: A Maritime Archaeological Research Agenda for England - Ransley, Jesse, Sturt, Fraser, Dix, Justin K., Adams, Jonathan and Blue, Lucy (eds.)
    Published by:
    York, GB
    Research Reports, 171
    Page Range:
  • Inhabiting watery worlds and moving beyond the ‘scape’ - Cobb, Hannah and Ransley, Jesse. In At Home on the Waves: Human habitation of the sea. T.J. King and G. Robinson (eds.)
  • Maritime communities and traditions - Ransley, Jesse. In The Oxford Handbook of Maritime Archaeology - Catsambis, Alexis, Ford, Ben and Hamilton, Donny L. (eds.)
    Published by:
    New York, US
    Oxford Handbooks in Archaeology
    Page Range:



Dr Jesse Ransley
Faculty of Humanities, University of Southampton
Avenue Campus, Highfield
SO17 1BF
United Kingdom

Room Number:65A/2213

Telephone:(023) 8059 8192

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